Azeem Rafiq: Tino Best says cricket needs to tackle drinking culture

19 Nov 2021 | 03:27 | Videos

The retired West Indies international, 40, spent the 2010 season at Yorkshire and played alongside Azeem Rafiq, who on Tuesday said English cricket was “institutionally” racist.

During Rafiq’s emotional testimony to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee he described how aged 15 and a practising Muslim, he was pinned down by a senior player at his local cricket club and red wine was poured into his mouth.

He said he did not drink alcohol again until “around 2012” when he felt he had to “to fit in” at Yorkshire

Best told BBC Sport: “The culture around cricket is drinking. That is a big problem. People shouldn’t be pressured to go into the clubhouse and drink eight or nine pints to be a part of the team. You’ve got to stop bullying people into doing what they don’t want to do.

“If you’re not a part of the drinking culture, if you’re not a part of the boys’ club, you’re not going to get opportunities after cricket. That is something that is hampering people of colour and Asian ethnicity.”

England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison told MPs on Tuesday that the governing body will take a close look at the dressing room culture within cricket, and there was no place for racism.

‘It was just astounding to hear what those guys were saying back in 2010’

Rafiq was giving evidence to MPs after a report found he was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” but Yorkshire said they would not discipline anyone.

Best says he was surprised to discover he was named in the report. He’d written an email to Rafiq’s lawyer about the treatment of players of Pakistani heritage, which was referenced by the panel, but neither they nor the investigating team had tried to contact Best for an interview or to seek any further information.

“My time at Yorkshire, I always saw the guys Adil Rashid, Ajmal Shahzad, Rafiq, they were always together,” he said.

“Me being a person of colour as well, I would always be with them as well. I would always hear about them complaining, literally they would complain every day about what they went through, in the youth academy. I would be like ‘wow’.”

Rafiq has spoken at length about the use of nicknames for non-white players, including ‘Kevin’ and ‘Steve’.

Best said he did not hear this during his time at Yorkshire.

“I didn’t hear anyone say anything directly but when I was at Nando’s with the guys having dinner they would talk about stories and things that happened to them, and it is hurtful, I wouldn’t repeat them.

“That was an awakening for me. It was just astounding to hear what those guys were saying back in 2010. And there was no platform for them to really open up because guys would have probably lost contracts, probably kicked out of the club. Guys were fearful of that.”

Best on incident with Moxon

Best described his time at Yorkshire as “brilliant” and “awesome”, and said he was warmly received by the fans and the community. But one incident stuck with him.

He says he confronted Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon last year over a comment he had previously made when he told Best after a game “I will put you on the next flight to Barbados, I’ll send you home”.

This alleged incident between Best and Moxon was also mentioned in Rafiq’s witness statement that was released in full by DCMS after Tuesday’s hearing.

Best said he did not consider the comment could be taken as racist – until he heard people say “go back home, go back to your country” in league cricket.

Best said Moxon recalled the match and conversation in question, but gave what he describes as a “half-hearted explanation”.

“He was saying ‘oh don’t try to drag me into this Black Lives Matter thing’,” said Best, “I said ‘I’m not dragging you into anything, I just wanted to know would you have said it to any player and what were you getting at?’ And he said he would have said it to any player.

“I just said ‘OK, cool, if you don’t see where you went wrong, it doesn’t make any sense you and I having a conversation, have a good day’. I was done with it, but when I saw Rafiq really open up the can of worms of what was happening, then I understood, OK, this is a norm. This is a normal type of behaviour that was endured at the club for those fellas.’

Moxon, who is currently absent from Yorkshire with a stress-related illness, has been approached for comment via the club.

‘Education is the key to moving forward’

Best said he did not agree with people being “fired” over racism, and instead believes “education is the key to moving forward”.

“It is like rehab. How do you beat alcoholism? You have got to go to rehab,” he said.

He said anyone implicated in cricket’s racism scandal should have to undertake several months of “educational rehabilitation” before they can resume work.

He suggested that between six months and a year of training would help them “unlearn that type of behaviour”.