Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Racism and How Not to Manage a Crisis

How Yorkshire County Cricket Club have turned an already unacceptable situation into a PR disaster that they may not recover from.

By Peter Jackson Eastwood, senior account manager, The PHA Group.

In a competitive field of sporting disasters in recent years, Yorkshire County Cricket Club might well have outdone the lot.

It’s remarkable quite how much of a monumental mess Yorkshire has made of handling allegations from former player Azeem Rafiq that there is institutional racism at the county.

The Saracens salary cap crisis was bad, the European Super League was worse, but when the PR handbooks of tomorrow are written, it is surely the Yorkshire racism scandal that experts will point to as the apex of a botched handling of a PR crisis.

Reputationally, Yorkshire will find it difficult to recover.

Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq alleged over a year ago that he was the victim of repeated racist abuse while playing for the county. This whole scenario could have been dealt with quickly with a thorough investigation, followed by an apology, and action that showed a commitment and willingness to improve.

Instead, we have had obfuscation, stubbornness and an absence of accountability and leadership that have stoked tensions that needed to be quelled. Yorkshire’s approach has made the situation worse at every turn, and it is impossible to overstate how dire this situation has become.

To watch one of the most famous cricket clubs in the world attempt to uphold the use of a derogatory, universally racist term as ‘banter’ is shocking.

One of the foundations of good communications is to know your audience, and to understand how to communicate with them. The way this story has exploded has shown just how outdated and out of touch hiding behind words like ‘banter’ is, and with sponsors pulling out a national media frenzy erupting, the ramifications of that ignorance are proving to be severe.

Yorkshire has been faceless. The county needed a spokesperson to be the public face of their response, and to show they are taking the allegations deadly seriously. As it is, all the public sees is one man, Azeem Rafiq, going up against an unrepentant organization who do not have the leadership to even meet him halfway.

Yorkshire need to apologise absolutely and unconditionally, rather than caveat or try to justify racist terminology each time they issue a statement. The message their approach is sending to fans, members, and young players of ethnic minority background is that they are not welcome at the club.

Make no mistake this is a full-blown crisis, one the county may never recover from. At this point, Yorkshire would be best served putting aside the spin, embracing transparency, and taking action to start to rebuild trust which has been shattered by their handling of the crisis.

There is a time and a place for a good defence, and it worked well on the pitch for their very own Geoffrey Boycott, but if they won’t change their approach soon, they are going to block, block, block their way into oblivion.


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