Headingley gets green light for internationals as Yorkshire approves key reforms

Headingley stadium has retained its status as a venue for international matches after Yorkshire County Cricket Club members passed three special resolutions as part of reform efforts following the racism scandal that enveloped the organisation.

The news from yesterday (Thursday) evening’s extraordinary general meeting (EGM) is crucial to Yorkshire’s long-term future, with the club stating it can now continue to “drive the right approach” through essential governance reforms and meet conditions set by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for the return of international and major matches at its ground in Leeds.

The ECB in February initially lifted the suspension on Yorkshire hosting international and major cricket matches at Headingley. 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. The ECB’s February decision followed 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 wished to be implemented by March 31.

Yesterday’s EGM had been cancelled on two previous occasions, while former chair, Robin Smith, had indicated that would vote against the reforms. Lord Patel’s appointment was one of Smith’s major gripes, a move he had described as “invalid”, but was one of the resolutions rubber-stamped yesterday, along with a vote to remove Graves Trust powers and appoint six non-executive directors to the club’s board.

Reacting to the agreed resolutions, Lord Patel said: “We welcome the outcome of this EGM and thank the members for their full and proper consideration, an open exchange of views, and their votes. It is an overwhelming vote for positive change.

“This support will help Yorkshire County Cricket Club to be an inclusive and welcoming place and gives us the clarity and certainty we need to keep building this great club. Yorkshire has now met the ECB’s conditions for the return of international cricket and, working with them, we’ll deliver some great events here at Headingley this summer.”

Yesterday’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 faced going into administration without international matches, with Patel warning the club faced a “huge financial crisis” if the ban wasn’t lifted.

Reacting to the news, an ECB spokesperson told The Guardian: “This is an important step forward in bringing about real change and setting the club on course for a more inclusive future. We welcome the progress made by Lord Patel so far, as well as his commitment to making the club one which everyone, from all backgrounds, can be proud of.

“With these governance reforms now having been passed, we are satisfied that international cricket can now be staged at Headingley this summer. However, there is much work still to be done at Yorkshire and it is important that the plans set out so far are now delivered. We will continue to monitor progress closely.”

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.