Addressing hate in sport with Restorative Justice

Published: Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

This is a blog by our Director Lucy Jaffe. 


Azeem RafiqThe bullying and racist abuse experienced by Azeem Rafiq from his teammates is shocking and appalling. This behaviour and the culture which allows it to continue is completely unacceptable and needs to be addressed urgently, root and branch. 

During testimony to the Digital Culture Media and Sport committee on November 16th, Rafiq called for disciplinary action to be taken by Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and subsequently for an apology from teammate Gary Ballance, which was forthcoming. He later apologised to the Jewish community about his own racist tweets which he sent in 2011. 

It is good that Rafiq’s experiences are at last being heard, but how can justice be done in a way which empowers him and others who experience this kind of abuse to recover and move forward? For every one sportsperson affected by hate crime who has Rafiq’s public profile, there are many others who will not have the opportunity to have their experiences heard in this way. How can cricket, and sport more widely, better support those who experience bigotry from fans or fellow players?  

Restorative Justice could be part of the solution, because it places the needs of the people who have been harmed at the centre of the issues. Restorative Justice between teammates could allow the people involved to address the harm which was caused and allow them to have their voices heard in a way which best suits them.

Restorative Justice can also be effective when sportspeople are abused by members of the public. Former Wales Rugby International Gareth Thomas, for instance, met the young man who assaulted him because of his sexuality in a Restorative Justice meeting in November 2018. He chose this route as the most effective way for him to personally recover and for the young man to realise the damage he had done.

The restorative process avoids shaming or browbeating the person who has caused the harm and provides them with an opportunity to recognise the damage that has been caused because of their actions. It can run alongside a disciplinary or criminal process and often provides the unmet emotional needs of people affected. 

Abuse directed towards sportspeople, especially abuse which is driven by prejudice, is a high profile problem at the moment. The English Cricket Board recently published an action plan to tackle racism and discrimination, with the Football Association and other sporting bodies launching similar statements and programmes. We welcome this action, but if these anti-discrimination strategies included widening access to Restorative Justice for players who experience abuse, their potential to support those harmed to heal and move forward would be significantly greater. Let’s bring Restorative Justice to the forefront of addressing hate crime and abuse in sport.

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