Perhaps it’s something to do with the British attitude to fair play. We Brits seem profoundly committed to the idea of a level playing field, proper rules properly followed and so on. As such we can be pretty sensitive to anything that might have the whiff of injustice about it. Racism, to put it most simply, is not cricket.
To this end in the wake of the Rafiq vs Yorkshire County Cricket Club tribunal case pretty much anyone you can imagine tripped over one another to express outrage and condemnation. Rafiq himself was elevated to the status of some sort of ‘anti-racist’ messiah, so profoundly did his story tap into the metropolitan consciousness.
Rafiq’s allegations conjured an image of a crusty old Y-CCC full to the brim with scoffing bigots, throwing around the P-word like it’s 1972 and expecting any victim of the disgusting racism they’d fostered to grow a stiff upper lip and get over his bloody self.
Metropolitan types seem ideologically and spiritually committed to the idea that the gains made in race relations and integration over the last forty or more years in the UK are all merely a mirage. So committed, in fact, that they can be rather quick to jump in and believe, wholesale, anyone painting them a picture of exactly the twisted racist Little Britain they have already decided is there.
This is a vision of the country as cosy as it is ugly, that renders the complex simple, and one that gives us heroes, baddies and a righteous common cause – ‘anti-racism’.
To question even a shred of Rafiq’s testimonies, to insist on caution, to suggest there might be complex motivations at play on all sides, to want some sort of independent corroboration, any pleas for moderation at all were derided as sacrilege.
Y-CCC themselves, engulfed in an increasingly existential crisis, dutifully embarked on a scorched earth policy, widely targeted, reactionary and desperate. Senior government figures including no less than the Prime Minister himself had chimed in demanding urgent action.
Such is the power of racial victimhood in 2021.
Across the pond there’s more of an appetite for healthy scepticism when it comes to this sort of thing. Perhaps this scepticism is merely a by product of America’s more litigious culture? Perhaps we’re simply less cynical than our American cousins? Or perhaps we are more ready to believe someone ‘playing the victim’ than accuse them of doing so for material gain?
Either way it seems clear now that we could have done with some of that scepticism in this instance.
Since that breathless first week or so in the Rafiq case several important caveats have emerged that bear attention.
Divergent accounts concerning just how pious exactly Mr Rafiq in fact was during his two separate stints at Y-CCC have emerged. That wouldn’t be an issue if Rafiq hadn’t characterised himself as a wide-eyed devout Muslim pinned down and forced to consume alcohol by a bunch of sniggering Y-CCC bigots, but he did and so it is.
Then there’s the question of the two separate stints at Y-CCC in and of themselves. At the very least an odd choice given the horrors Rafiq’s since claimed to have been a steady feature of the first.
There’s the close and by all accounts cordial and well documented friendships he enjoyed with many of those he’s now accused of having made his life at the club a near unbearable ordeal of constant racial abuse.
And then of course there was the revelation this past week that Rafiq is at least as guilty of exactly the sort of casual racism with which he’s so assertively and authoritatively charged others.
That Rafiq suffered some degree of racial abuse and that this isn’t acceptable seems to be pretty much universally agreed upon.
But the devil, as ever, is in the details.
The trouble is many of us seem unable to hold two conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time. Perhaps social media and the ever increasing tribalism it promotes in our public discourse is to blame?
Whatever the reason it seems we can’t contend that Rafiq can at once be a victim and a perpetrator of racism.
It seems that he must be either one or the other, a hero or a villain. Is it just a case of holding him to the same standards he’s demanded from others? Or is the whole thing a nasty exercise in digging up the past that’s left everyone with dirt all over their cricket whites, including Rafiq?
It seems we can’t comfortably entertain the idea that his motivations, in bringing forth the allegations that he has at the time and in the manner that he has, could possibly be mixed.
He must either be the courageous anti-racist martyr he’s been cast as by much of the fawning metropolitan media, or he must be a cynical grifter who didn’t mind ‘banter’ involving the p-word and boozy dressing room traditions until, retired and with personal gain in mind, he suddenly did.
Even though the truth is nearly always somewhere in the middle, it seems forces in our media and culture are hell bent on convincing us otherwise.
The truth is that we need to be free to question people who position themselves as ‘victims’ in situations where it’s socially, culturally or materially beneficial to do so. We need to recognise that justice isn’t served by knee-jerk, one-note responses to complex issues.
We have to be able to trust due process and endeavour to uphold the core principal of equality before law. We have to strive for a society where we get to the bottom of interpersonal grievances in a fair, balanced, methodical, evidence-focused and ideologically neutral manner.
Anything less, well… it simply wouldn’t be cricket.