Sponsors cut ties with Yorkshire following Rafiq racism report

Britain Cricket - NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day - Edgbaston - 20/8/16 Yorkshire's Azeem Rafiq celebrates the wicket of Durham's Ben Stokes Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs Livepic

Nov 3 (Reuters) - A number of sponsors of English county side Yorkshire have ended their partnerships with the club following an independent report into allegations of racism made by former player Azeem Rafiq.

Yorkshire had said last month that the club would not take any disciplinary action against employees, players or executives following the report, which found Rafiq had been a victim of racial harassment and bullying in his first spell at the county from 2008-14.

Publishing company Emerald Group and Yorkshire Tea said on Wednesday they had cut ties with Yorkshire.

Rafiq, a player of Pakistani descent and a former captain of the England Under-19s, said last year he was made to feel like an outsider at Yorkshire and contemplated taking his own life.

Yorkshire apologised to Rafiq in September following the publication of a summary of the report's findings.

Yorkshire chairman Roger Hutton as well as other members of the club's senior management have been summoned to appear before a parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport panel to provide evidence.

Rafiq will also give evidence at the hearing on Nov. 16, while British media reported the club's board will meet on Friday for emergency talks.

Reuters has contacted the club for comment.

Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance said he regrets using racist language towards his former team mate Rafiq.

"It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so," Ballance said in a statement.

"To be clear - I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years."

Ballance, who played 23 tests for England, described Rafiq as his "best mate in cricket" and said that on the pitch they "supported each other greatly".

Emerald Group said on Wednesday that it would remove its brand association with the club and Headingley Stadium.

"We do not tolerate any form of racism or discriminatory behaviour and the damaging effects this has," it said in a statement.

"Our intention remains to continue a financial commitment to the stadium, which is also the home of Leeds Rhinos rugby, as we believe this supports the aims of diversity and inclusion in sport along with a range of charitable community endeavours.

"Emerald will however no longer sponsor Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We hope YCCC will listen and respond with serious action to eradicate racism from the club and uphold the values we all expect."

Yorkshire Tea said in a statement it would cut ties with the club with immediate effect, while local brewer Tetley's said it would not extend its official beer sponsorship with the team beyond the end of the current contractual agreement.

British media reported another sponsor, David Lloyd Clubs, had already put its relationship with the team on hold a few weeks ago while local transport company First Leeds had sought to meet with county officials.

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, Editing by Toby Davis

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