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The Scottish Mail on Sunday - 2021-11-21

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Whistleblower ‘a victim of smear campaign’

News

By Glen Owen and Georgia Edkins

THE row over allegations that English cricket is ‘institutionally racist’ was reignited last night by claims that the whistleblower who gave evidence to MPs had been the victim of a dirty tricks campaign. Azeem Rafiq caused a political and sporting storm when he said he had been the victim of sustained racism while he was playing for Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Now a senior Commons source has said that, on the eve of Mr Rafiq’s appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee last week, a senior sporting figure made allegations to members of the committee about aspects of Mr Rafiq’s lifestyle. The source said: ‘They made various allegations about his private life and told us that as a result we shouldn’t trust his evidence. ‘We just saw it as dirty tricks, an attempt to discredit evidence which they would find uncomfortable.’ Mr Rafiq said he wanted to be a ‘voice for the voiceless’ and he was ‘not going to let this go, no matter how much damage it causes me’. But the 30-year-old was then himself plunged into controversy when he was forced to apologise for antisemitic Facebook messages he sent in 2011. He was also accused of sending ‘vulgar’ messages to a teenage girl six years ago. The girl, who was 16 when she met Mr Rafiq on a flight from Manchester to Dubai – but told him she was 17 to ‘seem a bit older’ – told the Yorkshire Post he wrote ‘u know what I wanted to do on the plane?’ and ‘I want to grab you push u up against wall and kiss you’. The girl, who is now 22, described his message as ‘creepy’. During his evidence to MPs, Mr Rafiq claimed he had been forced to drink alcohol by his team-mates – but the girl says he invited her to have a vodka and Coke with him on the plane. She said: ‘I’m not disputing any of his racism claims, because I’m sure they’re very true experiences. ‘But certain aspects of what he said just don’t really sit right with me. If he was being forced to drink by his team-mates, then surely that wouldn’t then mean he would be drinking alone on a flight and encouraging a 17-year-old girl to be drinking with him.’ A spokesman for Mr Rafiq said: ‘We need to look into this, so cannot comment further for now.’ It came as Tory MP Michael Fabricant raised fears of a witchhunt in the wake of the racism row. He told the BBC: ‘I just don’t want us to go down a witchhunt direction. ‘I’ve got a horrible feeling if we’re not careful maybe, not so much through social media, but some of the journalists will be digging around, will start picking on other sportsmen about what they might have done ten or 20 years ago. ‘It’s all a question of getting the balance right.’

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