Racism and the Equality Act – The Importance Of Following Procedures

Over the last week, a cricket club’s failure to investigate allegations of racial harassment directed towards one of its player has hit the headlines.

Race discrimination in sport has been catapulted into the limelight over recent years with Formula One drivers, Football Players and Olympians taking a knee as a symbolic gesture against racism.

Cricket is no different, with England players recently taking the knee during the T20 World Cup Match in Abu Dhabi.

However, over the last week, Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s failure to investigate 43 allegations of racial harassment directed towards one player has been in the news. This has shown just how quickly it can all go wrong if these types of allegations are not investigated or taken seriously and also the importance for any employer or sports club to deal with complaints properly.

Following the Club’s apparent failure to properly deal with serious allegations of racial harassment and bullying submitted by former player, Azeem Rafiq, the Club has come under public scrutiny. Former players such as Monty Pansear have also called for a cultural change in the sport.

Yorkshire Cricket Club recently commissioned an independent report into the allegations which ultimately upheld 7 of the 43 allegations raised by Mr Rafiq.

Despite a number of the allegations being upheld, the report concluded that racist comments made by former team members were merely a ‘regular friendly verbal attack between two players in the spirit of friendly banter’.

This is often similar to justifications seen in employment tribunal cases, where it is not uncommon for an employer or individual who is defending similar allegations as ‘banter’.

An announcement made by the Club on the 28 October 2021 confirmed that they would not be taking disciplinary action against any of its employees, players or executives following the conclusion of the report. The statement released by the Club goes on to say that ‘none of this diminishes the importance of the finding or the fact that there is much the club can learn from the report. It was important for Azeem to raise the issues and without him doing so we would not have the panel’s recommendations which are an important part of the clubs continuing journey.’

Since releasing the statement, the Club has been placed under increasing pressure to take action against those responsible for the racial bullying and harassment towards Mr Rafiq, including previous players, and for those who initially failed to deal with Mr Rafiq’s complaint back in 2018 to resign from their positions.

Such pressure has led to the Chairman of the Club, Roger Hutton to resign from his post with immediate effect on 05 November 2021, he has released a statement where he states he takes ‘responsibility for failing to persuade them (the ECB) to take appropriate and timely action’. This raises the question of why Mr Hutton did not feel it was in his role as the Club’s Chairman, to investigate and deal with the allegations within his own Club.

The increasing pressure has not just stopped with the resignation or Mr Hutton, there has been pressure on sponsors to withdraw their association with the Club from the public. A number of the Club’s larger sponsors including the Emerald Group, Yorkshire Tea, Arla Foods and Nike, have all released statements withdrawing their sponsorship from the Club and condoning the Club’s lack of response to Mr Rafiq’s allegations. Yorkshire Tea says, ‘We wholeheartedly believe that cricket should be a sport for everyone, but his experiences and the way the panel report has been handled don’t reflect that’.

With Headingley banning the Club from hosting international matches the Club could potentially stand to lose £10.5 million a year alone and putting into question their hosting for the third Test against New Zealand next year. From sponsors pulling their association with the Club, the Club’s losses are already in their millions. The apparent acts and omissions of the Club have resulted in an Employment Tribunal claim against them together with reputational damage that they are unlikely to recover from.

The Importance Of Following Procedures

This case shows how important it is for organisations to investigate allegations of this nature and ensure they take appropriate action against those involved. The Equality Act 2010 should be followed as should ACAS guidance on how to deal with grievances and complaints. Furthermore, it is essential that companies and club’s alike follow their own policies and procedures to deal with complaints of this nature or any complaint under the Equality Act 2010.

It also shows that where such claims come to the public’s knowledge, this can be damaging to the reputation of any business and can have far reaching financial implications.

It is essential that whenever any company receives a complaint under the Equality Act 2010 it is dealt with properly and in accordance with the proper procedures but also that advice is sought to ensure that the complaint is dealt with correctly. Just because something is a joke or banter does not mean it is not a breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Our friendly and professional team can advise on a variety of discrimination issues for both employer and employee.

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