The ECB hosted Azeem Rafiq at the Lord’s Test days before charges were brought against Yorkshire

The ECB hosted Azeem Rafiq at the Lord’s Test days before charges were brought against Yorkshire

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq testifies during a parliamentary hearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on sport governance at Portcullis House in London - AP

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq testifies during a parliamentary hearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee on sport governance at Portcullis House in London – AP

Azeem Rafiq was treated to hospitality by the England & Wales Cricket Board during this month’s first Test at Lord’s, days before facing charges over the Yorkshire racism scandal.

The startling revelation has led to criticism of the governing body’s lack of independence and the impression of “bias” in its case against the club and former England players Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and Gary Ballance.

There followed an extraordinary attack on the ECB’s handling of the scandal by the last four Yorkshire leaders, who dismissed it as inappropriate to reveal the full story behind Rafiq’s damning allegations of crisis district abuse and botched treatment and called for a fully independent inquiry the whole matter.

Colin Graves, Steve Denison, Robin Smith and Roger Hutton all told Telegraph Sport the revelation has compounded a litany of concerns each of them had about the disciplinary proceedings launched against the club and individuals charged over the scandal last week became.

These included that there was no indication Rafiq had been charged with an anti-Semitic slur that surfaced in November, although he admitted it.

His appearance in the ECB’s own company box on day one of the first test between England and New Zealand was confirmed to Telegraph Sport by another guest, who said: “The ECB’s greats and the good took turns to go and sit next to him.”

Another source claimed to have seen the organization’s acting chairman, Martin Darlow, give the key witness in his investigation into the scandal a tour of the Lord’s media center.

Graves, who himself chaired the ECB for five years until 2020, called the Governing Council’s celebrations with Rafiq “absolutely bizarre,” adding, “I just can’t believe it.”

Colin Graves poses for a portrait at Lord's - ECB

Colin Graves poses for a portrait at Lord’s – ECB

Denison, who said he attended the test on the same day as Rafiq, said: “I didn’t realize he was a guest of the ECB. Under the circumstances, that’s just ridiculous.

“It shows a complete lack of independence. Bias might be a better word.”

Smith said the ECB appeared to support “one side” of the case, while Hutton said “it’s really not a good thing.”

Rafiq had made no secret of his participation in the game, posting photos and video clips from one of Lord’s company boxes on social media.

That it was the ECB’s own box was confirmed by a fellow guest, who told Telegraph Sport there was “no question at all” that he was there at the invitation of the governing body.

The guest added: “I was absolutely amazed to see him there, to be honest given what is going on and given the charges now being brought against certain Yorkshire players and ex-Yorkshire players.

“It’s quite an amazing thing to be honest with you because it would undoubtedly be seen as a conflict of interest and could interfere with the process.”

The guest said Rafiq was one of “at least 40 people” in the ECB’s box that day, along with senior figures from the governing body, New Zealand Cricket, and representatives from various religions.

“It seemed like they were trying too hard to say, ‘Look at us; Aren’t we all inclusive?’, with Rafiq front and center,” the guest said.

“Trust me, the ECB’s greats and good guys took turns sitting next to him.”

As Telegraph Sport revealed, charges over the Yorkshire racism scandal were finally announced last Thursday, with the crisis club and “a number of people” facing charges over allegations made by Rafiq against them.

Vaughan and sacked County head coach Andrew Gale both face disciplinary hearings, with the ex-Test trio reportedly facing Ballance, Hoggard and Bresnan among five other measures.

The defendants were accused of violating the ECB’s rules on improper conduct, its anti-discrimination code, or both.

Vaughan and Bresnan have publicly denied making racially insensitive comments, Ballance has admitted calling Rafiq “P—” as part of a “banter” between them, while Hoggard and Gale have yet to comment.

Rafiq’s fellow guest at Lord’s said: “This has the potential to explode in the face of the ECB and Rafiq.

“I suspect that the people who have been charged by the ECB will now unite and take very, very strong action.”

At this trial, governing body officials act as investigators and then as prosecutors under the supervision of an independent regulatory committee.

The cases themselves are tried by the Cricket Discipline Commission, described on the ECB’s own website as an “arm’s length” body, with disciplinary panels composed of “three independent and suitably qualified and experienced persons”.

However, investigations into recent major scandals in other sports – such as child sexual abuse in football and abuse in gymnastics – have been fully outsourced to independent QCs.

A spokesman for Rafiq referred inquiries to the Governing Body about his client’s visit to Lord’s.

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