Azeem Rafiq, English first class cricketer who has played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the England under-19 cricket team, remembers the time when he had almost ended his life.
The topic of mental health in the world of sports a touchy subject. Just like any other, cricket requites quite physical fitness, as well as its mental aspect is no less demanding. However, not only failing to perform well on the 22 yards, or lacking the taste of silverware, there are other pressures that can affect the mentality of a cricketer.
I was in pain every day: Azeem Rafiq remembers his past
Sharing his dark past with ESPNcricinfo, Azeem Rafiq opened up about the final years he spent with Yorkshire, and how a false racism allegation had caused the spin bowler to almost kill himself.
“I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire. I was living my family’s dream as a professional cricketer, but inside I was dying. I was dreading going to work. I was in pain every day,” Rafiq remembered.
The 29 year old, who hails from Karachi, Pakistan, has played for Yorkshire for a decade since 2008, and has played 39 first class matches, and has picked 72 wickets. In 2011, he went on a loan spell to Derbyshire. Rafiq also captained the England U19 team at the 2010 Under-19 Cricket World Cup.
However in the last two to three years of his first class career, the club captain’s reputation was maligned over alleged racism, and often times he felt he didn’t belong to the club.
Rafiq continued,“There were times I did things to try and fit in that, as a Muslim, I now look back on and regret. I’m not proud of it at all. But as soon as I stopped trying to fit in, I was an outsider. There were no coaches on the staff from a similar background who understood what it was like.”
Azeem Rafiq calls out Yorkshire for ignoring racism, lacking diversity
While he mentioned that he felt like an outsider inn Yorkshire, Rafiq claimed the club was responsible for not having a diverse squad. He also mentioned that there were incidents of racism and discrimination by others at the club which were ignored.
“Yorkshire doesn’t want to listen and they don’t want to change,” Rafiq went on, “and part of the reason for that is the people who were involved in the incidents I’m talking about are still at the club. They just want to sweep it under the carpet.”
“Look at the facts and figures. Look at a squad photograph. Look at the coaches. How many non-white faces do you see? Despite the ethnic diversity of the cities in Yorkshire, despite the love for the game from Asian communities, how many people from those backgrounds are making it into the first team?” Rafiq put forward.