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Ashes: England chief Ashley Giles says squad reflected on Azeem Rafiq racism testimony

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Ashley Giles broke England’s silence on the racism crisis rocking cricket on Sunday and immediately offered support to his beleaguered old Ashes winning captain.

England’s managing director chose his words carefully as he offered his side’s perspective on the fall-out from Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of institutionalised racism. But when it came to Michael Vaughan there was no question where Giles stood.

Vaughan, who led an England team including left-arm spinner Giles to their iconic 2005 Ashes victory, is fighting for his broadcasting future after being dropped by both BBC and BT from coverage of a series in Australia that begins next week. 

England's managing director Ashley Giles says the Ashes squad has followed the story of Azeem Rafiq's racism allegations against Yorkshire and reflected on his testimony

England’s managing director Ashley Giles says the Ashes squad has followed the story of Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations against Yorkshire and reflected on his testimony 

Rafiq gave powerful testimony to MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee

Rafiq gave powerful testimony to MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee  

But after Vaughan apologised to his old Yorkshire team-mate Rafiq in a BBC interview for the pain he suffered at Headingley – while again denying he made the comment ‘too many of you lot here, we will have to do something about that,’ to Yorkshire’s Asian players – Giles talked of the need to offer second chances.

‘I can’t comment on what the BBC should do with one of their employees,’ said Giles when asked about Vaughan. ‘But I think tolerance is really important. We all make mistakes and we all will again. But we have to be able to tolerate, educate and rehabilitate otherwise people aren’t going to open up, share their experiences and learn.’

Vaughan and Yorkshire have been at the centre of the race storm since Rafiq told MPs at a Digital, Culture Media and Sport select committee hearing that he received ‘inhuman’ treatment during his time at the club.

And the man who had become the face of BBC cricket’s coverage before he was first dropped from his radio show with Phil Tufnell and then omitted from their Ashes team displayed contrition for the first time in an interview with BBC’s Dan Walker.

‘It hurts deeply, hurts me that a player has gone through so much and be treated so badly at the club I love,’ said Vaughan of Rafiq.

‘I have to take some responsibility for that and if, in any shape or form, I’m responsible for any of his hurt, I apologise for that.’

But Vaughan insisted he had never made any racist remarks even though Rafiq’s allegation from a Yorkshire T20 match against Notts at Trent Bridge in 2009 was backed up by team-mates Adil Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. A fourth Asian player in Ajmal Shahzad says he did not hear the comment. 

England captain Joe Root takes a breather during a net session at The Gabba on Sunday

England captain Joe Root takes a breather during a net session at The Gabba on Sunday

‘I just remember clearly I was proud as punch that we had four Asian players representing Yorkshire,’ said Vaughan. ‘Nothing but a proud, senior, old pro just about to retire and absolutely delighted Yorkshire had come so far in my time at the club.’

Vaughan, who is still due to travel to Australia this week to feature in Fox Sport’s Ashes coverage, clearly hopes he can be reinstated by the Test Match Special before the first Test in Brisbane on December 8. Giles, and by extension the England team, would have no issues with that.

‘Does zero tolerance mean we shouldn’t accept discrimination and racism,’ said Giles. ‘Absolutely. But not giving second chances? I’m not sure that’s a healthy way forward. We all know this can be a bit of a minefield.

‘Even the language we use around this area changes almost by the month. So for me we’ve got to not only educate more but we have to call out issues much more effectively if we see them happening in the dressing room because perhaps all of us in the past – and not just in cricket – have let things go.’

Giles said he could not recall any instances of racist language being used during his own playing days but stopped short of insisting nothing offensive was ever said.

‘In my experience, in all the environments I’ve played in, I cannot recall any discrimination with an intent to harm by word or action,’ he said. ‘But have things been said that in a different time in a different context could have hurt? Yes, quite possibly. In 30 years it would be difficult to say not, to be honest.

‘And if in any of the dressing rooms I’ve been in or been involved in things have happened then we can only apologise. But I have played in diverse teams and I hope the experiences in those groups have been positive.’

Giles (second left) and Michael Vaughan (second right) celebrate Ashes victory in 2005

Giles (second left) and Michael Vaughan (second right) celebrate Ashes victory in 2005

England have made no public comments up to now on the race scandal, even though Rafiq said he was disappointed when captain Joe Root insisted he had not heard comments made by his then flat-mate Gary Ballance. But Giles said the players have been talking privately at their Brisbane base while preparing for the Ashes.

‘There’s been a lot of reflection on this side of the world within our group,’ he said. 

‘And many of us sat up and watched the select committee hearing and listened to Azeem’s testimony. I found both his personal story of the tragedy that he and his wife suffered (their son was still-born) and of course the experience of discrimination pretty hard to listen to, as I’m sure we all did.

‘My wife and I suffered a very similar personal tragedy and to go through that is hard enough but to go through those other things at the same time and see your professional career and life fall apart must have been pretty terrible.

‘I’ll let the players speak for themselves in time but listening to them it’s interesting that in this area they’ve almost learned most from speaking to each other in the dressing room. I’m very proud of the diversity we have in our team. These guys have a huge amount of respect for each other. I’d go so far as to say they love each other in the way they operate together. I know this whole group is keen to make a big difference in this area.’

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