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Headingley regains right to host international cricket

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has today (Friday) lifted the suspension on Yorkshire County Cricket Club hosting international and major cricket matches at Headingley stadium.

In November, Headingley was barred from hosting international or major matches in the wake of the racism row over the treatment of a former player.

The ECB said the ban would last until Yorkshire had “clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected” and following an investigation into how the club has handled complaints from Azeem Rafiq. An internal investigation undertaken by Yorkshire found Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying”, but at the time the club said it would take no disciplinary action.

Since then, Lord Kamlesh Patel has succeeded Roger Hutton as chairman of Yorkshire, while a number of other senior figures have departed. Hutton resigned just before Rafiq testified to a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee in November about the racism he experienced at the club.

The ECB said today’s decision follows a rigorous review of progress made against several criteria set out in November to tackle racism at the club. The ECB said it acknowledged the “hard work and good progress” made by Yorkshire, but made its decision conditional on further requirements it wishes to be implemented by March 31. These are:

  • Resolving the issues relating to rules changes and decisions at the club which have been subject to procedural flaws.
  • Amendments to club rules relating to the appointment and operation of the board, including removal of Graves Trust powers.

At a formal meeting with Yorkshire, the ECB said it reviewed a full written submission from the club, as well as an independent assessment from the Good Governance Institute and Howard Kennedy LLP.

Overall, the ECB Board has determined that Yorkshire is able to show a “demonstrable commitment” to building a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion; while there is “evidence” that it is adopting a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.

The ECB added that Yorkshire is now able to commit to identifying and tackling historic cases of discrimination; and ensure it is a “welcoming environment for everyone”. Today’s announcement means Headingley will now host England’s third Test against New Zealand on June 23-27, as well as the one-day international with South Africa on July 24.

Yorkshire, which also had a lucrative 2023 Ashes Test against Australia scheduled before November’s suspension, has previously made it clear it faces going into administration without international matches, with Patel last month warning the club faced a “huge financial crisis” if the ban wasn’t lifted.

Patel said today: “We have worked night and day to bring about tangible change at Yorkshire, and the removal of the sanctions has validated and reignited our drive for positive progress.

“I would like to thank the ECB for its support, and its robust challenge throughout the process. It has been a difficult period for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and there remains a lot of work to be done, but the level of scrutiny has pushed us towards implementing action which will not only transform this club but can lead the way forward for the sport as a whole.”

Barry O’Brien, interim chair and cricket non-executive director at the ECB, added: “The Board welcomed the hard work and actions taken by Yorkshire County Cricket Club towards putting the club on a new path.

“Alongside the progress already made, we considered many factors in reaching our decision. Amongst them, the impact on fans who have bought tickets in good faith and the young people who will benefit from Yorkshire’s improved outreach and pathway provisions.

“Finally, the Board was mindful that the return of international cricket will support continued change and progress at the club.”

Publishing group Emerald pulled out of its naming rights agreement with Headingley in the wake of the scandal, while Yorkshire also lost a number of other sponsors.