Yorkshire head of human resources calls fan 'a coward' in email dispute

Yorkshire have said they will launch an investigation after the club’s head of human resources called a supporter “a coward” and accused the fan – and ex-player Azeem Rafiq – of “waging a campaign” against the club on social media.

In the email sent on Sunday morning from Yorkshire’s Liz Neto to supporter Khalid Akram – and seen by BBC Sport – she told him: “I do hope you are proud.”

Her message – which Mr Akram said left him “distraught and shocked” – came the day before the club’s new chair, Lord Patel, apologised to Rafiq over Yorkshire’s handling of the report into his experiences of racism at the county and praised him as a “whistleblower”.

Mr Akram told BBC Sport: “This is why people don’t raise complaints and speak up about discrimination.”

In 2018, Mr Akram made a report to Yorkshire about racial abuse he and his family had experienced in the stands at Headingley during an international fixture.

It is understood the club passed the case on to West Yorkshire Police, who took no action.

Last week, Mr Akram wrote on social media that the club had “done nothing” about his complaint.

He included a screenshot of communication he had had with Ms Neto in 2018, showing that she told him the club’s chief executive Mark Arthur and commercial director Andy Dawson had “instigated an immediate investigation”.

The screenshot included Ms Neto’s phone number, and the post – which Rafiq promoted – has since been deleted.

Mr Akram told BBC Sport there was no contact from Yorkshire about the case after they handed the matter to the police.

On the question of posting Ms Neto’s contact details on social media, Mr Akram said: “As soon as this was brought to my attention, I brought my post down immediately as causing Liz any undue distress was never my intention.” He added that he had considered Ms Neto’s details were not an issue as they were in the public domain.

In her email on Sunday, Ms Neto told Mr Akram there had been “serious consequences” to him “whipping up a crowd by being selective” with what he circulated – and that she was speaking to police about his actions.

“The full file, along with the full details of my complaint to West Yorkshire Police are also going in the file of papers to the DCMS so they can get a flavour of the campaign being waged by such as you and Azeem Rafiq on social media,” she continued, referring to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing at which Rafiq will give evidence next week.

She said: “I have the full file of papers on your complaint in 2018 and the prompt action to investigate taken by the club and by West Yorkshire Police.”

Ms Neto also said Mr Akram’s inclusion of her phone number in his tweet breached data rules, adding: “The fact you redacted your details but left mine in full view shows you to be a coward.

“I do hope you are proud, you certainly sound very proud.”

"It's left me in tears, distraught and in shock. It makes me think that next time I won't be raising any more complaints. Instead of being sensitive, they have pushed me to the edge. This is why people don't raise complaints and speak up about discrimination as it's like talking to a brick wall. Being called a coward is a horrible label, especially coming from an international cricket club.

Mr Akram in an interview with BBC Sport:

“The day before Lord Patel is praising Azeem as a whistleblower, I am being called a coward and I am being sent this email saying me and Azeem are waging a campaign. How does that work?”

Mr Akram also added that Ms Neto had twice written to him using the wrong surname, despite his having corrected her, and that he found that “insulting”.

In response, new Yorkshire chairman Lord Patel told BBC Sport: “There must be a period of truth and reconciliation to get to the bottom of our culture, and our processes, to learn from our mistakes.

“We want anyone who may have suffered issues to come forward. The allegations will be investigated, including being referred to the independent whistleblowing hotline which is being established, and this will include the original complaint and its handling.

“We have already seen and anticipate a number of issues coming in and they will all be individually reviewed. That will take time.”

It is the latest development in a string of racism allegations concerning the club, which has prompted resignations, including of former chairman Roger Hutton, and the suspension of coach Andrew Gale, and has triggered the UK government’s involvement.

Rafiq first detailed his experiences at Yorkshire in September 2020, saying they had left him close to taking his own life.

A report partially released a year later found former Yorkshire player Rafiq was a victim of “racial harassment and bullying” but the county said it would not discipline anyone.

Original article published 10.11.21 on the BBC Sport website.

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