News Celtics blow past Suns, Thunder back on top

LONDON: On Nov. 8, 2021, Lord Patel, then chair of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, issued a statement in which he thanked Azeem Rafiq for “his bravery in speaking out. Azeem is a whistleblower and should be praised as such … Let me be clear from the outset, racism or discrimination in any form is not banter.”

In conversation with Azeem, he admits to not being familiar with the concept of whistleblowing when he first spoke out. According to UK law, a whistleblower is a worker who exposes illegal, illicit or dangerous activity happening in their workplace. This excludes reporting of personal grievances at work unless exposure is in the public interest. Although Azeem had left Yorkshire when he made his disclosures, it could be argued that they have relevance to the general public.

Historically, the majority of whistleblowing cases appear to have related to the world of politics. Famous examples include Watergate and President Nixon’s authorization of illegal break-ins in 1972, Ralph Nader’s exposure of unsafe practices in the US auto industry in 1965 and Frank Serpico, who publicly reported in 1971 on corruption in the New York Police Department. In the past 50 years, areas of exposure have spread to corporate malpractices, environmental issues, irregular behavior by financial institutions and publication of misleading data.

It is only fairly recently that whistle-blowing cases of bullying, discrimination, sexism and racism have gained greater public traction. More channels of communication have opened up through social media and public hearings, coupled with the provision of legislation by policymakers designed to provide protection for whistleblowers.

In December 2019, the EU Whistleblowing Directive came into force. It was designed to create a minimum standards framework so that member states could establish effective, confidential and secure reporting channels to protect whistleblowers from fear of retaliation. Protection applies only to reports of wrongdoing relating to EU law. Companies with more than 50 employees and public-sector institutions are obliged to set up suitable internal reporting channels. It has taken four years for all but two member states to adopt the minimum standards into national law.

In 2019, the National Whistleblower Center, based in Washington DC, estimated that about 60 countries had dedicated whistleblowing legislation in place. This number will have been swelled by the action of EU member states. There is a large absence of legislation in northern, western and central Africa, Central America, the Gulf and Southeast Asia.

The focus of recent legislation on the need to protect whistleblowers from retaliatory action is designed to create an environment in which potential whistleblowers feel more secure to make disclosures. However, after Azeem Rafiq made his allegations, he was subject to significant retaliatory action from which he received little, if any, protection. This seems to be so because, as a personal grievance, his case sat outside of the relevant UK law relating to whistleblowing. Fear of retribution and the risk of letting down the side may explain why reported examples of whistleblowing in sport are limited.

In 1998, Marc Hodler, a Swiss member of the International Olympic Committee, accused a group of members of the IOC of taking bribes from the committee organizing the bid by Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Games. Ten members of the IOC were suspended and another ten were sanctioned.

In December 2021, Simon Lorimer wrote a formal whistleblower complaint to the chief executive of FINA, the body responsible for administering aquatic sports. He alleged that Zhou Jihong of China manipulated and bullied judges in diving events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Zhou was forced to apologize.

Sport and cricket have not been free of unethical behavior. Scandals relating to match-fixing, corruption, doping, bribery, money-laundering and illegal gambling have all occurred, with proof to match. This is hardly surprising, given the substantial revenue streams involved and the inconsistent governance standards in place. Other scandals have involved sexual harassment, inequality, racism and bullying. On top of this exists a multitude of stakeholders, including national governments, multinational businesses, administrative bodies, individual clubs, gambling businesses, non-profit organizations and the general public.

Within this maelstrom, it can be difficult to see how the integrity of sporting endeavour and competition is to be maintained. Sport is, or should be, values-driven. Ethics, honesty, respect for rules/laws, respect for others, healthy competition, are central. If these are removed, can a sport be worthy of that name? It is incumbent on those who perceive that these values are being sullied to speak out without fear. This should be underpinned with not only legal protection but also the protection of a sporting culture that does not allow or encourage the type of opprobrium that Azeem Rafiq has received from some of his former peers.

One of the outcomes of Azeem’s experience has been the creation of whistleblowing hotlines throughout cricket in England and Wales. Yorkshire County Cricket Club quickly established one in November 2021 when the club’s management changed. Other counties have followed suit. The England and Wales Cricket Board established an independent game-wide system in February 2022. There have been other initiatives regarding, for example, equality, diversity and inclusion, reviews of dressing-room cultures and abusive crowd behavior.

Ultimately, it will be impossible to distinguish between measures introduced directly as a result of Azeem’s disclosures and those that may have happened anyway, but not as quickly. If the legal definition of a whistleblower cannot be applied, then there is another concept which surely does, that of the “disagreeable giver,” a term first used by psychologist, Adam Grant. Such people challenge entrenched behaviors and do not shy away from difficult conversations or controversy, despite personal cost.

However, they are not solely disruptors or critics. Above all, they seek to effect positive change, acting, perhaps unconsciously initially, as catalysts to achieve better structures in place of those that they have found to be wanting. It may be the case that, already, Azeem, without protection, has effected change by virtue of having people in unlikely corners of cricket accept that “it is not banter, it is racism” — and that it is not acceptable.

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