How gutless of the BBC to axe Michael Vaughan from Test Match Special for the upcoming Ashes series on the basis of two words – 'you lot' – he might or might not have said more than twelve years ago.
If that is how it’s going to be, then surely we should be told. Who knows, it might be a lark. What’s to stop me, for example, from using this space to recall that in 2003 BBC Director General Tim Davie told me something deeply transgressive about, say, the trans community?
Davie might very vigorously deny my claim – I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he did, in fact, given I have just this moment invented it – but that’s hardly the point. If proof is no longer required to make an allegation stick, then he’d have no alternative but to resign or be fired. Sorry. I don’t make the rules.
Truth be told, TMS can ill afford to lose Vaughan, who since the departure of Sir Geoffrey Boycott in 2020 – another Yorkshireman the corporation cancelled on dubious grounds – is by far the best of the programme’s commentators.
In recent years, TMS has become terribly self-reverential and dull. Where once listening to it, especially while doing something relatively mindless, like driving or gardening, was an opportunity to be transported across the world by witty and incisive minds, now more often than not it’s an exercise in enduring tiresome pub bore-style banter.
Vaughan’s understanding of the game and self-deprecating humour was much preferable to, say, Graeme Swann doing another of his hilarious impersonations of a West Indian, or Charles Dagnall banging on endlessly about the curry he had the previous evening.
Given Vaughan’s role in masterminding England’s incredible 2005 Ashes series win over Australia, too, there is a strong argument to be made he was the English game’s greatest luminary in any commentary box. Certainly, his record as a cricketer is more impressive than that of the English former players now holding down highly lucrative commentary gigs on Sky or BT Sport.
But now he’s gone, cancelled by the BBC because he was accused by former Yorkshire team mate Azeem Rafiq of once referring to a group of Asian players as 'you lot' - despite the fact he denies ever saying the words.
'For editorial reasons, we do not believe that it would be appropriate for Michael Vaughan to have a role in our Ashes team or wider coverage of the sport at the moment. We require our contributors to talk about relevant topics and his involvement in the Yorkshire story represents a conflict of interest,' was the BBC’s bloodless explanation for its decision.
This statement, of course, makes no concession to the fact Rafiq can hardly now be viewed as the most reliable of witnesses. The player last week said he had no recollection of the recently discovered virulently anti-Semitic posts he made on Facebook in 2011, despite having posted them two years after the incident he claims he now recalls so clearly involving Vaughan.
None of the above is to say that Rafiq did not suffer racist abuse during his career as a cricketer, or that he was lying when he addressed the department for culture, media and sport committee in Parliament earlier this month. Rather it’s to say if you’re going to wreck a man’s life, you surely need hard evidence that he did what you’re accusing him of doing.
What a message of defiance it would be if Vaughan was now to sue the BBC, given the damage to his reputation and the loss of earnings he will incur as a result of the corporation apparently siding with Rafiq in this way. That he is unlikely to is part of what makes the cancellation trap so hellish – the fear of burning bridges in case cancellation ends.
If he is innocent, as he says he is, then it’s time for Vaughan to fight back as vigorously as he did against Australia sixteen years ago.