The racism scandal that has engulfed Yorkshire County Cricket Club and the English game since 2020 will come to a head over the coming days.
More than two and a half years have passed since former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq first made claims of racism at Yorkshire, later calling English cricket “institutionally racist”.
On Wednesday, a long-awaited Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) hearing will begin in London and run until 9 March.
Here is everything you need to know.
What is due to happen?
A panel will hear disciplinary proceedings brought against Yorkshire and seven individuals who were all charged by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) with bringing the game into disrepute.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan is set to be the only charged individual to appear in person following a number of withdrawals from the disciplinary process.
Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan, John Blain, Andrew Gale and Richard Pyrah have all withdrawn, while Gary Ballance has admitted liability in response to his charge and will not participate.
Yorkshire will also not attend after the club pleaded guilty to four ECB amended charges.
The hearing is to take place in public – a first for the CDC – at the request of Rafiq, who will also appear in person.
However, this does not mean the general public will be able to watch; instead, accredited journalists will be permitted to watch a live stream of the hearing at its London location.
The panel will consist of former Derbyshire batsman Tim O’Gorman (chair), Mark Milliken-Smith KC and Dr Seema Patel.
What are the allegations against Vaughan?
Rafiq alleges Vaughan said “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” to him and three other Asian players in 2009 while they were all at Yorkshire.
England bowler Adil Rashid and former Pakistan bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan have corroborated the allegation, which Vaughan “completely and categorically denies”.
The fourth player in the group, bowler Ajmal Shahzad, has said he has no recollection of the event.
Vaughan was not involved in the BBC’s coverage of the Ashes in Australia over the following winter, but returned to commentary in March 2022.
He stepped back from his work at the BBC in June last year after he was charged by the ECB and two groups of BBC staff raised concerns about his continued involvement in the broadcaster’s cricket coverage.
Vaughan captained England in 51 Tests between 2003 and 2008. He played his entire domestic career at Yorkshire – between 1993 and 2009 – before becoming a summariser on BBC Test Match Special.
Analysis – BBC sports editor Dan Roan
This is the latest chapter in what has become one of the most damaging and prolonged episodes in the history of English cricket, one that has forced its most successful county – and also the wider game – to confront uncomfortable questions over dressing-room culture and language, as well as its record on representation, inclusivity and diversity.
To many it may seem farcical that all but one of the defendants will not be present when proceedings get under way at the International Arbitration Centre on Fleet Street in London, but there will still be much at stake:
For cash-strapped Yorkshire, who will be braced for a possible points deduction or heavy fine, exacerbating the financial challenges the club is already facing after spending millions of pounds on compensation to former staff and legal fees;
For Vaughan, whose BBC broadcasting work has been put on hold since he was charged, and which could now depend on him clearing his name;
For Rafiq, who has admitted making mistakes in the past, and who as the key witness is expected to be cross-examined by Vaughan’s legal team, but who says this will finally offer him “closure”;
For current England player Adil Rashid, who is expected to give evidence from Bangladesh via video link;
And for the ECB, which has come under serious pressure to properly investigate what became a national scandal, but whose disciplinary process has also been heavily criticised by some of those involved for lacking independence and fairness.
And with the publication of a landmark report into inequality in English cricket expected to follow soon after this hearing ends, the game is now braced for another period of intense scrutiny.
How did we get here?
Former Yorkshire spinner Rafiq first made claims of historical racism at Headingley in an interview with the Cricket Badger podcast in August 2020.
The county commissioned law firm Squire Patton Boggs to investigate and, more than a year after Rafiq’s initial allegations, a summarised version of a report was published in September 2021. Seven of Rafiq’s 43 claims were upheld and Yorkshire apologised for “racial harassment and bullying”.
However, the panel’s report was not published and no player, employee or executive faced disciplinary action as a result of its findings. The outcome sparked widespread criticism and in November 2021 Yorkshire was temporarily stripped of the right to host international matches at Headingley by the ECB.
Former chairman Roger Hutton and chief executive Mark Arthur resigned in November 2021, the same month in which Rafiq appeared in front of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee to give evidence which included branding English cricket “institutionally racist”.
In December 2021, Hutton’s replacement as Yorkshire chairman Lord Kamlesh Patel sacked 16 members of the club’s coaching and backroom staff, including head coach Gale and bowling coach Pyrah. Both would eventually agree compensation over a claim for unfair dismissal.
Patel’s reforms at Yorkshire saw the club reinstated as an international venue in time for summer 2022.
Shortly before Headingley hosted England’s Test against New Zealand in June 2022, the ECB announced it had charged the county and seven individuals.
Gale, who denies the allegations made by Rafiq, withdrew from the disciplinary process two weeks later, calling it “tainted”.
In August 2022, Ballance, who has admitted to using racist language towards Rafiq, issued an apology which Rafiq accepted. Ballance has since been released from his Yorkshire contract and returned to play for his native Zimbabwe.
Rafiq and Gale were reprimanded by the ECB in October 2022 for historical social media posts of a racist nature. Both admitted making the posts, which were not related and for which Rafiq apologised.
In November 2022, the CDC took the unprecedented step of opting to hold its hearing in public and scheduled it to take place at the end of that month.
An appeal against that decision from the respondents delayed the hearing and was ultimately struck down.
In February 2023, former players Matthew Hoggard, Tim Bresnan and John Blain withdrew from the disciplinary process, with former Yorkshire bowling coach Pyrah also pulling out days later.
Last week, Yorkshire admitted documents about racism allegations against the club were deleted under a previous regime.
What were the claims against the others?
In his witness statement, Rafiq accused former England bowler Hoggard of using racist slurs against him and other Asian players “on a daily basis”.
He said that after disclosing his experiences in the media, Hoggard called him to apologise and he thanked his former team-mate for his apology.
Hoggard, who took 248 wickets in 67 Tests for England, played for Yorkshire between 1996 and 2009, before joining Leicestershire until his retirement in 2013.
He withdrew his co-operation from the disciplinary process in February saying it “was not an admission of guilt” but he didn’t think the process was “fair”, adding the investigation had “failed everybody”.
Rafiq accuses Bresnan of “frequently” making racist comments towards him during their time together at Headingley and said Bresnan’s behaviour led him to have “suicidal thoughts”.
Bresnan, who played 23 Tests and 85 one-day internationals for England, apologised to Rafiq for the bullying claims but denied allegations of racism.
Bresnan left Yorkshire for Warwickshire in June 2020 and his new club said he would face no disciplinary action but would take cultural awareness training. He subsequently retired from cricket in January 2022.
Like Hoggard, Bresnan withdrew from the disciplinary process because he does not believe he will get a fair hearing.
In December 2021, Gale was among 16 members of staff sacked by Yorkshire in a widespread overhaul of its senior leadership under the new regime.
Gale won a claim for unfair dismissal against Yorkshire in June last year. The county said the sackings were “necessary and justified” and chairman Patel has maintained it was “absolutely the right thing to do”.
Former batter Gale, who spent his entire career at Yorkshire, was suspended as part of an investigation into a tweet he sent in 2010, before he was sacked.
He and Rafiq were among five current and former players reprimanded by the ECB for historical social media posts of a racist nature in October. Rafiq had previously apologised for a Facebook exchange from 2011 containing anti-Semitic messages.
Gale said the disciplinary process was “tainted” when he withdrew in June 2022.
Former bowling coach Pyrah was also one of the sacked 16 members of staff and also won a claim for unfair dismissal last year.
Rafiq claims Pyrah, who also had a 12-year playing career at Yorkshire until 2015, dismissed his complaints of bullying and racism by other players.
Rafiq said he told Pyrah he was being bullied by Bresnan but he was instructed to ignore it.
Pyrah withdrew from the process earlier this month, saying it has not been “open, fair or transparent”.
In his testimony to a DCMS select committee, Rafiq said the atmosphere at Yorkshire became “toxic” after Gale retired from playing to replace Jason Gillespie as head coach and Ballance took over as captain in 2016.
Ballance previously admitted using racist language about Rafiq’s Pakistani heritage towards him. Rafiq said he accepted an apology in person from Ballance in August, and called for his former team-mate to be “allowed to get on with his life”.
Yorkshire have since released Ballance from his contract at his request and he has started representing his country of birth Zimbabwe, making his debut for them against Ireland in January.
Rafiq alleges that in 2011 then Yorkshire second-team coach Blain “humiliated” him by shouting at him and telling an umpire “get him off the ground now” when Rafiq attended a training session. Yorkshire had suspended Rafiq for a month over a tweet he had sent but he said his ban did not prohibit him from attending training or watching matches at the ground.
Former fast bowler Blain, who was capped 118 times by Scotland, has been “temporarily suspended” from Cricket Scotland’s Hall of Fame.
Like Hoggard and Bresnan, Blain withdrew from the disciplinary process because he does not believe he will get a fair hearing.