Leaving behind the cricket fields of England, former British sportsman Azeem Rafiq has found a new home in the vibrant Dubai. Here, he shares the joys of adapting to life in this dynamic emirate
Azeem Rafiq, the former British cricketer, has traded his cricket whites in England to begin a new chapter of his life by moving to Dubai. Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, Rafiq's family moved to England in 2001, where he grew up in the charming town of Barnsley in South Yorkshire.
His cricket journey kicked off at Barnsley Cricket Club and he quickly rose through the ranks, representing Yorkshire schools in his youth. Known for his right-arm off-spin bowling, Rafiq made history in 2012 by becoming the youngest captain of a Yorkshire side, marking a significant moment as the first person of Asian origin to achieve this feat.
Reflecting on his achievements, Rafiq said: "I'm incredibly proud of captaining England at 19 at the Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, being the youngest Yorkshire captain and the first one from the British Staff Division, and also leading Yorkshire to their first-ever T20 finals day as captain. The common theme is that I enjoyed the leadership and the team's success, so these are the things that stand out for me."
Having left his professional cricket days behind, Rafiq now calls Dubai home. Speaking about this transition, he said: "It's been an incredibly challenging time. Cricket was all I knew and it was my identity and my purpose for the last 18 years. That said, there is so much I have taken from my sporting background that continues to help me today. The ability to handle stress and pressure is a big one as life is full of challenges and being able to stay calm is very important. Working with a team is also something that I think sport prepares you for. This is crucial as most things in life require you to be able to collaborate, strategise and then implement and deliver that strategy. Lastly, it also teaches you about sacrifice and resilience, because to become a professional sportsperson, you have to keep getting up after being knocked down."
Despite the initial challenges that led to him moving to Dubai, Rafiq expressed gratitude for the warm welcome and support he and his family have received. "Dubai has been one of the best things to happen to us," he said.
One of the highlights for Rafiq is the city's dynamic vibe. "The 'everyday work' attitude to go out there and be excellent is fulfilling for me. I'm getting to a point where I have professionally a lot more opportunities in this region and new things are happening all the time."
Rafiq has spoken at several events in the city about his experiences with racism in the cricketing domain and he also serves as an advocate for mental health, having detailed his struggles in his upcoming book. "The book has given me a platform and a purpose which is far bigger than myself. I recently spoke at Standard Chartered about things that are close to my heart and I’m looking forward to doing more work with local organisations, corporate and government entities to fulfil that. I am truly excited about all the new opportunities presenting themselves now and in the future."