Yorkshire racism case: Gary Ballance apologises to Azeem Rafiq for racist language

Gary Ballance and Azeem Rafiq
Ballance, who joined Yorkshire in 2008, played with Rafiq during the latter's two spells at the county

Azeem Rafiq has accepted an apology from Gary Ballance and called for his former Yorkshire team-mate to be "allowed to get on with his life".

Ballance had previously admitted using racist language towards Rafiq, but the two met in person in London this week.

"I did use unacceptable - at times, racist - language. If I had realised how much this hurt Azeem, I would have stopped immediately," said Ballance.

"I wanted to meet him and be clear in person that I intended no malice."

Former England batter Ballance added: "That's not an excuse. I realise that the language I used was wrong."

As a result of allegations made by Rafiq, Ballance is one of a number of people who have been charged by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Yorkshire have also been charged.

Ballance had previously called Rafiq his "best mate in cricket" and said he "cared deeply for him".

In a statement released on Thursday, Ballance, who has played 23 Tests for England, said: "I have wanted to meet Azeem in person for quite some time, but I had to make sure I was in a good place when I did so. Azeem has been through similar mental health challenges and understands why this has taken me a little time.

"I have accepted, from the outset, the words I used were wrong and I hope this statement brings Azeem some comfort. There is no place in our sport for this behaviour and I am determined to play my part in ridding the game from racism and make it more inclusive. To do this we all need to be honest and learn from our past mistakes."

While Rafiq's career ended in 2018, Ballance remains with Yorkshire, but has not played in a competitive first team fixture this season.

He has played matches in the second XI and was close to a return in the One-Day Cup, although has yet to feature.

"From day one of opening up about my experiences, all I ever wanted was acceptance and apologies for what happened," said Rafiq.

"Gary has been brave to admit the truth and I understand why the mental strain has made it difficult for him to make this apology any sooner. Gary must be applauded for his honesty and unreserved apology and must now be allowed to get on with his life.

"Gary got things wrong; so did many people. The main issue is cricket's institutional racism. Gary's courage means he is now part of the solution. I hope he can be allowed to get on with his cricket.

"I would like to thank Gary. He has done cricket and the fight against racism a great service with these words."

Yorkshire said they were "delighted" the two had "cleared the air".

"Gary's contrition is admirable and marks a big step forward for the sport and the club," a statement read.

"Azeem is right to say that Gary must now be allowed to continue with his career. We hope to see many more runs flow from his bat for Yorkshire."

Rafiq told MPs last year that English cricket was "institutionally" racist during his wide-ranging testimony to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

His testimony led to changes in Yorkshire's leadership, Headingley being temporarily stripped of hosting international matches and the England and Wales Cricket Board putting together a 12-point plan to tackle racism in the game.

The ECB has since published a five-point plan designed to tackle racism and discrimination that includes a "full review of dressing-room culture".