The ‘Gentlemen’s Game’ – but only for certain Gentlemen?

By: Lewis Keenan, BSc Criminology and Sociology student

Allegations within the last two years has led to public knowledge of the deep rooted and seemingly institutional racism within the structure of English cricket. The lack of diversity at the highest level of English Cricket has always been a clear problem. Only 21 Black Cricketers have ever represented England Men or Women Cricket teams. However, Ex-Yorkshire and England Cricketer Azeem Rafiq sparked the recent outburst of evidence, suggesting racist behaviours and actions of Yorkshire Cricket Club in particular.

Rafiq claims that (Ingle, 2021) “there was a lot of ‘you sit other there near the toilets, the word P**i was constantly used, no one ever stamped it out.” Furthermore, he claims how the current captain of Yorkshire Cricket Club, Gary Balance, said “why are you talking to him [Rafiq], he’s not a sheikh, he hasn’t got oil.” The racism is shown to be deeper than just individuals within clubs as Rafiq consistently suggested how everyone knew what was going on although “no one did anything about it.” Rafiq further claims that he (Collier, 2021) “picked up the nickname Kevin, from Gary Balance, which was used as a derogatory term to describe ethnic minorities.” MPs were told that the use of this nickname was “an open secret within the England Dressing Room.” It is also claimed that current Nottinghamshire and England Cricketer named his dog Kevin because it was Black.

Stigma and devalued identities

These experiences endured by Rafiq can be linked to Tyler’s theory of stigma. Tyler (2020) highlights how “Stigmatisation is experienced through looks, comments, slights and remarks made in face to face or digital encounters.” Rafiq alleges most, if not all, of these actions taking place throughout his time playing for Yorkshire Cricket Club. Tyler (2020) describes stigma as a ‘machine of inequality’ and further suggests how stigma is a ‘productive form of power’. One feature of stigma is that things that appear new are just reconfigurations of historical stigmas. This links to the problem of inequality within cricket as although the allegations from Rafiq are seen as new, cricket has a rich history with the stigma of racism and inequality throughout history. Greenfield et al (1997) supports this suggesting, “There can be few other sports that rely so heavily upon an international rivalry that consistently pits black against white.” Greenfield et al (1997) further suggests how “focal points of discrimination have emerged within Cricket.” This shows how these allegations of discrimination were present over twenty years ago and still nothing has changed or been addressed. This adds to the view that English Cricket is institutionally racist and inequality is deep rooted into the structure of cricket in England.  

Bauman developed a theory suggesting society can be divided into two groups. One group being those seen to be able to effectively consume within society named ‘the seduced’. The other group those seen to be unable to effectively consume within society named ‘the repressed’. Although Bauman’s theory is directed towards consumers and non-consumers within society the idea can be linked to the inequality problems within cricket. Cricket, especially in England, traditionally was a game for middle- and upper-class white men throughout history. This is where the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ label arises from. Therefore, Bauman’s two groups of ‘the seduced’ and’ the repressed’ can be attributed to Cricket.  The seduced group includes upper- and middle-class citizens within society and the repressed group includes ethnic minorities and lower-class citizens within society. According to Bauman (2007) members of the repressed are “seen as as totally useless; as a nuisance pure and simple, something the rest of us could do nicely without.” This explains experiences had by Rafiq at Yorkshire Cricket Club such as made to sit by the toilets away from the rest of the players, as well as being given the nickname Kevin to single him out. Bauman also suggests people in repressed are seen to have a ‘devalued identity’. This idea of devalued identity features heavily within Azeem Rafiq’s statements regarding the racism he experienced. Dollard (2021) describes how “Rafiq’s treatment led to suicidal thoughts.” Further showing not only the impact of these racist behaviours, but supporting Bauman’s suggestion of ‘devalued identity’ as a result of being in a repressed group of society.

Next steps…

Yorkshire Cricket Club carried out a full investigation into the allegations by Azeem Rafiq in response. The Chairman of Yorkshire Cricket Club at the time of the allegations Rodger Hunt has resigned from his role since the conclusion of the investigation. Hunt furthermore accepted that Yorkshire Cricket Club could be labelled as institutionally racist. Despite this conclusion and the acceptance of institutional racism, Yorkshire said they are taking no disciplinary actions against any of their staff or players regarding any racist behaviour. This is a topic of large controversy as it shows how once again no action has been taken as result of the uncovered discrimination within cricket. However, in light of these findings Yorkshire have been stripped by the English Cricket Board of hosting a Test Match between England and New Zealand this year, which would have been a a large source of income for the Club. One of the largest issues is that these allegations are not an isolated incident. Many different County Cricket teams have now allegations against them including Somerset and Essex. This has led to the Essex chairman John Faragher resigning from his role similarly to Yorkshire’s chairman.  The English Cricket Board has since committed to a 12-point plan in order to tackle racism and all forms of discrimination. Their plan (ECB, 2021) outlines “addressing dressing room culture, removing barriers in talent pathways as well as creating welcoming environments for all.” The plan has only just been created so it is too soon to evaluate whether the ECB’s actions have been successful or not.


  • Bauman, Z. (2007). Consuming Life. Cambridge: Policy Press.
  • Collier, I. (2021). Azeem Rafiq racism claims: Notts batsman Alex Hales denies ‘racial connotation’ behind calling his dog ‘Kevin’. Sky News. 17 November.
  • Dollard, R. (2021). Azeem Rafiq: English Cricket rife with Racism, says cricketer as MPs told of ‘inhuman’ treatment at Yorkshire. The Independent. 17 November.
  • ECB.Com. (2021). Cricket commits to action plan to tackle racism and all forms of discrimination. 26th November 2021.
  • Greenfield, S., Osborn, G. (1997). Enough Is Enough: Race, Cricket And Protest In The UK. Sociological Focus, 30(4), 373–383.
  • Ingle, S. (2021). English cricket offers Azeem Rafiq apology and Promises action on Racism. The Guardian. 19November.
  • Tyler, I 2020. Stigma: The Machinery of Inequality. London: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [Accessed: 29 December 2021].

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