Colin Graves issued a “personal and unreserved” apology to all victims of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, confirming that his return to the board will be ratified at an emergency general meeting (EGM) at Headingley on February 2.
Graves, who was club chair between 2012-15, and who was last year sanctioned by the ECB for dismissing previous allegations of racist incidents during his tenure as “banter”, issued a statement via the BBC after Yorkshire’s confirmation of the details of the EGM.
“I apologize personally and unreservedly to anyone who experienced any form of racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club,” Graves wrote. “Discrimination or abuse based on race, ethnicity or any other protected characteristic is not and never will be acceptable.
“I profoundly regret some of the language I used when asked about the events that took place when I was chairman, at a time when I was no longer at the club. I understand and sympathize with those who regarded my comments as dismissive or uncaring.
“I am determined to do whatever is required to ensure Yorkshire County Cricket Club continues to reflect the communities it represents. The club cannot and will not succeed unless it is united in its commitment to meet the highest professional standards, on and off the field.”
Graves will be joined on the Yorkshire board by three other members of the consortium whose offer of emergency funding to the club was agreed on Wednesday evening: Phillip Hodson, the Yorkshire-born former President of MCC; Sanjeev Gandhi, a former non-executive director of the Hundred, and Sanjay Patel, the long-term ECB executive who left his role as managing director of the Hundred last summer.
Under the terms of the deal, Yorkshire will receive an immediate injection of £1 million, followed by further investment worth £4 million. Graves’ original involvement with the club came about in similar financial circumstances in 2002, when as the founder of the Costcutter supermarket chain, his bail-out saved them from bankruptcy. His family trust, which is managed by independent trustees, is still owed nearly £15 million by the club.
“I am delighted the board have approved this deal,” Graves added. “If the offer is accepted by members, I will lead a management team which will oversee an immediate injection of capital into the club. It is our intention to get Yorkshire back to winning ways; grow the women’s game; and inspire a new generation of children and young adults to watch and play cricket. Yorkshire must be a club that is open and welcoming to everyone who shares a passion for the game, from every part of society.”
Writing to the club membership, existing chairman Harry Chathli – who is expected to stand aside once Graves has been restored to the board – acknowledged the controversy surrounding the impending appointment, but said that the adverse publicity surrounding Yorkshire in the wake of its racism crisis, coupled with the board’s desire to retain its member-owned status, had left the club with no viable alternatives.
“For a number of years the club has had substantial borrowings and an overdraft totalling nearly £17 million, which are due for repayment by October 2024,” Chathli wrote. “The board has been working to raise funds in order to meet its requirement for working capital and to refinance its longer-term debt.
“It has not been straightforward due to several factors including an adverse economic climate with high inflation and increasing interest rates, uncertainty over the costs of the widely publicised Cricket Disciplinary Commission (CDC) investigation and resultant fines, as well as the backdrop of ongoing litigation and substantiated and unsubstantiated press reports.
“These factors resulted in many parties either declining to participate or withdrawing from negotiations out of fear of association with the club.
“It also became clear early in the process that many potential suitors were primarily interested in purchasing the club outright, thereby ending its member-owned society status. This had the effect of reducing the pool of prospective and viable investors.”
Responding to the prospect of Graves’ return, Azeem Rafiq – whose testimony lifted the lid on the institutional racism at Yorkshire – wrote “No longer my club” on Twitter/X, alongside a broken heart emoji.
In a statement, the ECB said that it had been in regular contact with Yorkshire about Graves’ potential return and welcomed his apology – but warned of “significant powers which can be used to hold Yorkshire to account” if the club’s reforms did not continue.
“The ECB notes today’s announcement by Yorkshire County Cricket Club. We have been in regular contact with the club’s leadership as it has sought to address significant financial challenges, and understand they concluded that this proposal was their only viable option to address the situation the club is in and put it on a sustainable footing.
“Considerable work has been carried out at Yorkshire – and across cricket more widely – in recent years to tackle discrimination and make the game more inclusive, and it is vital this continues. We welcome Colin Graves’ commitment to continue this work, his unreserved apology and acceptance of the findings of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC). These words must be put into action if Yorkshire members approve this deal.
“Yorkshire is an incredibly diverse area and the club’s iconic status means it has a huge opportunity to be at the forefront of the sport’s work to become more inclusive. We have been working with the club for some time to support its work in breaking down barriers and becoming more welcoming to people from all backgrounds, and we will continue to do so as we deliver on the actions set out in response to the ICEC.
“In addition, the ECB continues to exercise its ongoing role of ensuring effective oversight of governance across the wider game. There are also significant powers which can be used to hold Yorkshire County Cricket Club to account if it does not continue with the progress and reform we have seen over the last few years.”
The news drew a strong response from the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, who warned that Graves’ return to the club “undermines” the efforts that Yorkshire has made to restore its reputation since the scandal broke.
“The disgraceful treatment of Azeem Rafiq by Yorkshire CCC was the tip of the iceberg, with racism, classism, sexism and misogyny found to be entrenched across the sport,” Dinenage said in a statement.
“The publication of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket’s report last year offered a turning point for English cricket, which the ECB appears to be taking.
“The return of Colin Graves to Yorkshire and to English cricket risks undermining what progress has been made so far.
“The Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be watching closely as this deal progresses, so that the terrible past of Yorkshire CCC does not repeat itself.”
Graves has been invited to give evidence to the committee in February.