Banter is just not cricket

Yorkshire Cricket Club (YCC) have recently made headlines for the wrong reasons.  Azeem Rafiq alleged that he had been racially harassed and bullied, as a player.  Azeem said “It was not done in a malicious way.  It was disguised as banter.  It was racist. I didn’t find it funny”.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines banter as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”.   A lot of banter is harmless.  I have many a conversation on a Monday morning about the weekend’s football results.  However, banter can go too far and can have serious consequences.

But they joined in with the banter

Many an employer has told an employment tribunal that the claimant didn’t seem offended, they joined in.  In his interview with Sky News, Azeem describes how he did things he now regrets to try to fit in.  He has also apologised for sending anti-semitic tweets in the past.  However, two wrongs do not make a right.

Azeem said that, when he stopped trying to fit in, he felt isolated.  He tells how the banter slowly ate away at him until he found himself feeling suicidal.  This short clip of his interview with Sky News will help you understand things from a victim’s perspective.


Why should you take action?

Every employer wants to have a friendly atmosphere at work. That will inevitably lead to banter.   However, just because someone appears to be joining in, that does not make it acceptable.  If you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable, act.  Your employees need to feel able to call it out.  That starts from the top.

Azeem describes that “there were a few people who did it openly, a few that tagged along and a lot of people that let it happen.”  Even though the independent report found that Azeem had been racially harassed and bullied, YCC decided not to take any disciplinary action.

Other players are coming out now to talk of their experiences at YCC. Many of these would have remained silent had it not been for the publicity around Azeem.  Some walked away rather than stand up and fight.  Sponsors have turned their backs on the club and their reputation has been shattered.

If you don’t act, you too could face losing valuable employees, damaging publicity and an employment tribunal.


Steps you should take

  • Have clear policies on equality and diversity.
  • Make sure your employees clearly understand your expectations on behaviour.
  • If you hear or see unacceptable behaviour, stop it.  Don’t ignore it.
  • Speak to those involved. Understand what was said, the effect it has had and be clear it must not happen again.
  • Confirm your discussions in writing.
  • Offer support to those affected.
  • Keep written notes of your findings and your actions.
  • If you receive complaints of unacceptable behaviour, investigate them thoroughly.
  • Where you find evidence of unacceptable behaviour, instigate disciplinary proceedings.


If you have been tempted to turn a blind eye to banter, I urge you to watch Azeem’s video and resolve that your employees will never feel like that.

If you need any support in this important area, please contact me.

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