Monday, June 24, 2024

John Blain seeking answers and justice after being cleared of cricket racism claims

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Azeem Rafiq’s claims that Yorkshire was a hotbed for racism was the start of an acrimonious and drawn-out process that saw the club and seven individuals – including Blain – charged for bringing the game into disrepute. That led to a Cricket Discipline Commission (CDC) sitting in judgement last year.

Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, contested the claims against him and won his case. The others, including Blain, chose not to participate in what the former Yorkshire coach felt was a costly and “irredeemably flawed” process. The panel considered testimony from Rafeeq that claimed Blain had referred on separate occasions to people of Pakistani origin as “P***s”.

That was an allegation supported by Majid Haq, Blain’s former international team-mate, who made a claim about similar language being used on a Scotland trip together. The panel handed down guilty verdicts to Yorkshire and the six individuals who didn’t engage in the CDC process. Blain was fined £2500, a sum that is yet to be collected.

By that point Scottish cricket was mired in a mess of its own after Haq and another former Scotland international, Qasim Sheikh, took their lead from Razeeq by claiming the sport had been riven by discrimination north of the border, too. That led to Cricket Scotland accepting a finding that it was “institutionally racist” as part of the far-reaching Changing the Boundaries investigation carried out at the behest of sportscotland, the national agency for sport.

Blain again found himself in the firing line, suspended from Cricket Scotland’s Hall of Fame while a referral process further investigated the claims. Only now has that finally ended, with Blain exonerated and the case against him thrown out, having denied all the allegations made against him from the very start. He is still none the wiser why Rafeeq, whom he coached at Yorkshire, and Haq have pursued him so vigorously on this front for so long.

“I find it amazing that I find myself in this situation having not done anything,” he says, the emotion rising in his voice. “People will say, “John, it’s racism. You’re going to say you’ve not done anything.” But on my children’s lives I haven’t.

“The hurtful thing is I had good relationships with them all. I helped Majid when he wanted to send players to me for one-to-one coaching, Qasim would call me when he wanted to discuss his private life. So I don’t know where this has come from.

“Was there a narrative they wanted to push and I was weak? There’s no doubt I was a hard taskmaster in the team when it came to setting standards. But I never used racist language. What I do know is the allegations made against me were totally unfounded. My life has been on hold for too long and it’s time that the truth is finally told about one of the biggest sporting scandals of recent times.”

Confirmation of his innocence from a Scotland standpoint will provide relief – he’s had to sit on a letter from former Cricket Scotland chief executive Pete Fitzboydon confirming as much since January – but it won’t completely eradicate the damage done to Blain and those close to him in recent years.

Being defamed as a racist. Losing his job with a children’s charity and other sources of income as a result of the allegations. Being verbally abused while coaching children, in the street and online, resulting in police protection. The suffering caused to his partner, his children and his mum, both physically and mentally. And the dark, dark thoughts that have resided permanently within Blain throughout it all as he wondered whether this nightmare would ever end. None of these things will be easily shaken off.

“It’s been a difficult three-and-a-half years but hopefully we’re finally coming towards a clearer path,” he adds, having launched a Go Fund Me page to try to help finance his legal costs. “I’ve lost a lot of work off the back of all this. Someone contacted my employer and I lost my job off the back of it.

“I was also working as a sports coach at Heriot’s school and I lost that. I was doing some commentating for the BBC and I lost that. The Grange [where Blain is employed as director of cricket] have thankfully stood by me. They’re very clear on the person that I am, having been with them for eight years now. They’ve been really good and have been proven right.

“My work there brings me into touch with a lot of Asian families and kids and I’ve had nothing but support. And that goes for the Asian community right across Scotland. I’ve had Asian professional people get in touch to say they were sorry to see what I’ve been going through. That’s been quite humbling.

“It’s been a tough ride for my family, too. When it all first came to light I was down in England and journalists were trying to go around the side of my house. My daughter, who was seven at the time, wouldn’t come downstair as she thought someone was coming to take her daddy away.

“The police sat outside our house for a week [as protection] and even now they still do regular visits to check on us. My lad’s had abuse at school with folk saying to him that his dad’s a racist. My mum had a stroke and, when she was lying there. she said, “John, it’s been too much for me”.

“My partner went through a personal situation that contributed to the stress of it all. It’s just been horrific. I’ve suffered as well. I could have given up and that’s the honest truth. But I’m still here and dealing with it all. It will be interesting to see what the future holds and how I move forward but I’ve gone to some pretty dark places with it all. My family have been great and you have to try to continue for the kids. It’s been 1300 days now that I’ve been involved and the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning to keep going is knowing I’ve not done this.

“I can’t thank enough the people who stepped forward to support me. But it was slow coming at first. Some people were looking at it and trying to make up their own minds. There were very few who stood with me at the start. Plenty walked away from me. I was quite a lonely guy for a long time.”

Out of the findings of the Changing the Boundaries report, Cricket Scotland has been forced into becoming a more professional, modern and structured organisation. At the heart of the enquiry, however, was the damning accusation that the governing body was overseeing a cricketing landscape blighted by racism in every corner. That’s not a picture, however, that Blain recognises.

“I don’t think there’s been a racism problem here,” adds the former bowler who was capped 118 times for his country. “I came back from Yorkshire and was working at West of Scotland and saw the amount of Asian talent there in the game. And that was back in 2012. I said at the time that we must embrace the Asian culture in terms of cricket in Glasgow as they’re the glue that holds the game together.

“I do think it’s unfair that Scottish cricket has been tainted as a racist sport. If I’d seen that sort of stuff I’d have jumped on it straight away. That’s the type of person I am. I stand my ground for what I believe in and that includes topics like racism and misogyny.”

It would have been understandable if Blain had accepted this resolution as the end point of a wretched personal journey and never wanted to visit any of this trauma again. Instead, the 45 year-old believes it marks only the starting point in his thirst for justice, eager to ensure that all his recent suffering has not been for nothing.

“It’s been a long, difficult period but there are wider questions that need to be asked,” he adds. “The facts and evidence that we have are compelling, both the contemporaneous notes I have from the ECB case and then the witnesses we have in the allegation that Majid made.

“It leaves some people in a very difficult situation. Sportscotland took those allegations and ran with it. They gave apologies for something that didn’t happen. They have to be held accountable for what they’ve done and how the whole thing has been handled. They have some serious questions to answer.

“Cricket Scotland hurt me when they took me out of the Hall of Fame in July 2022. The public nature of that really hurt me and I’m calling on them to reinstate me. It will also be interesting to see what steps Trudy Lindblade and Wilf Walsh, the new chief executive and new chair of Cricket Scotland, take now. There should, at the very least, be a full and transparent investigation into how these allegations were so badly mishandled and sportscotland must do likewise.

“I have to take action against those who’ve impugned my name. This has cost me hundreds of thousands of pounds. I’ve been defamed. It’s cost my family ill-health. It’s cost me work. If I hadn’t been for the Grange I would have lost everything. I can’t just let this happen.

“I can’t let people make these allegations and then just walk away. I’ve not done this. That’s why I have to keep going. And I will.”

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