England cricketer Gary Ballance has apologised to Azeem Rafiq for using racist language against his former Yorkshire team-mate.
In a lengthy statement back in November, the 32-year-old had admitted to using a racial slur against Rafiq. He has now apologised in person during a meeting with Rafiq in London this week.
Ballance, who has represented England in 23 Tests, and 16 ODIs, last played for Yorkshire in September, last year. Following Rafiq's initial allegations of racism and harassment levelled at the club, he was charged by the ECB in June of this year for bringing the game into disrepute, along with six other individuals and the club itself.
"I have wanted to meet Azeem in person for quite some time, but I had to make sure I was in a good place when I did so. Azeem has been through similar mental health challenges and understands why this has taken me a little time. I apologise unreservedly to Azeem for the words I used when we played together," Ballance said in a statement on Thursday.
"I did use unacceptable -- at times, racist -- language. If I had realised how much this hurt Azeem, I would have stopped immediately. That's why I wanted to meet him this week and be clear in person that I intended no malice. That's not an excuse, I realise that the language I used was wrong.
"I have accepted, from the outset, that the words I used were wrong and I hope this statement brings Azeem some comfort.
"There is no place in our sport for this behaviour and I am determined to play my part in ridding the game of racism and making it more inclusive. To do this we all need to be honest and learn from our past mistakes," he added.
Rafiq, whose career ended in 2018, accepted the apology from Ballance and said that his former teammate should be applauded for his honesty.
"From day one of opening up about my experiences, all I ever wanted was acceptance and apologies for what happened. Gary has been brave to admit the truth and I understand why the mental strain has made it difficult for him to make this apology any sooner. Gary must be applauded for his honesty and unreserved apology and must now be allowed to get on with his life," said Rafiq.
"Gary got things wrong, and so did many people. The main issue is cricket's institutional racism. Gary's courage means he is now part of the solution. I would like to thank Gary. He has done cricket and the fight against racism a great service with these words," he added.
Notably, Rafiq told MPs last year that English cricket was "institutionally" racist during his wide-ranging testimony to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.
His testimony led to changes in Yorkshire's leadership, Headingley being temporarily stripped of hosting international matches and the England and Wales Cricket Board putting together a 12-point plan to tackle racism in the game.
The ECB has since published a five-point plan designed to tackle racism and discrimination that includes a "full review of dressing-room culture".