'I deserve the flak over antisemitic comments', Azeem Rafiq tells JC

Former Yorkshire spin bowler Azeem Rafiq said it's 'for the Jewish people to decide' whether his apology is accepted in the first interview since antisemitism claims surfaced


Former Yorkshire spin bowler Azeem Rafiq, who is at the centre of an antisemitism storm, has said that his comments were not addressed to a Jewish person and has appealed to Britain’s Jews to accept his apology. 

Speaking to the JC after his offensive remarks came to light, the cricketer – who has been giving tearful evidence to a select committee this week about the racism he himself suffered at the club – said:

“The circumstances do differ. I don’t think I’ve ever played with anyone Jewish, so it was not exactly the same. But I don’t want to play it down. I’ve hurt people. My genuine feeling is that I deserve the flak. I f***ed up.”

His comments were not equivalent to the racism he had suffered, he said, which at one point involved having red wine poured into his mouth by players who knew that Muslims did not drink alcohol. But he stressed that he was in no way diminishing his own actions, and wanted to emphasise how much he regretted them.

Mr Rafiq said: “I’m deeply sorry. I don’t recall making any other antisemitic remarks, but I’ll go back and think about it.

“People are going to go through my whole life looking for things I’ve done. I admit I’ve made mistakes.”

In 2011, Mr Rafiq sent messages to a colleague about a fellow cricketer, Atif Sheikh, in which he criticised him for apparently not paying a dinner bill.

“Hahaha he is a Jew,” the spin bowler wrote. “Only Jews do that sort of sh**.”

The revelations in the Times magnified the racism row that surrounded Mr Rafiq’s evidence to the parliamentary select committee about his experiences while playing for Yorkshire.

When asked why he didn’t recall sending the offensive messages, when he remembered every detail of the discrimination that he himself had faced, the sporting star said:

“When something doesn’t affect you, you don’t remember it. You don’t recall it. I’m just distraught. The one positive thing is that it shows how big the problem is, and it’s going to keep the issue forefront in people’s minds.”

He declined to clarify whether he saw himself as part of the problem or part of the solution. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me,” he told the JC.

“What does matter is that people keep talking about racism in cricket and make the game welcoming to everyone, regardless of who you are.”

Mr Rafiq has been open about his pro-Palestinian sympathies. In May, during Israel’s conflict with Hamas, he used the hashtags “#StandwithPalestine” and “FreeGaza” on Twitter. There is no suggestion that this was antisemitic.

The former England international said he felt “sick to the stomach” when he saw the messages he had sent when he was 19.

“There are no words to express how sorry I am,” he said. “I don’t remember making those comments. When I was sent them, I felt sick to my stomach.”

And he appealed to the Jewish community to judge him in the light of his repeated apology.

“When it comes to the people who were racist towards me, all I’ve ever asked for is an apology and for them to accept what they’ve done,” he said.

“Then I’d give them a second chance. My comments hurt people. It’s for the Jewish community to decide whether you guys accept my apology.”

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