Tom Ilube ‘comfortable’ as first black chair of British sports governing body

The new head of the RFU is aiming to boost grassroots participation and diversity as well as the success of the England teams.

Duncan Bech
Tuesday 14 September 2021 17:26 BST
The RFU’s Tom Ilube is the first black chair of any sports governing body in the UK (RFU handout/PA)
The RFU’s Tom Ilube is the first black chair of any sports governing body in the UK (RFU handout/PA) (PA Media)

Tom Ilube is at ease with his position as the first black chair of a sports governing body in Britain after arriving at the Rugby Football Union with a packed business and personal CV that includes being held prisoner by the security forces of Idi Amin

Ilube has replaced Andy Cosslett at Twickenham and officially began work on August 1 with the immediate aim of overseeing the restoration of grassroots rugby to pre-Covid levels.

In 2017 the 58-year-old was ranked first by Powerlist, which details the 100 most powerful people with African or Afro-Caribbean heritage in Britain, on the basis of his success as a tech entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Tom Ilube’s chief priority is to see grassroots rugby return to pre-Covid playing levels (PA) (PA Media)

The son of a Nigerian father and English mother, Ilube spent time in Uganda and Nigeria as a youngster and it was in the nation ruled by Amin that one of his more harrowing experiences unfolded.

“We spent a bit of time in East Africa, in Uganda. My dad came over here as a soldier in 1956 and then went into engineering and was posted over there,” Ilube said.

“Actually, it was at the time when Idi Amin took over, which was quite lively. At one point I was tied up and nearly shot by security guys for some random reason.”

Building a winning system that delivers consistent success for the England men’s and women’s teams, growing the sport and improving player welfare are among Ilube’s longer-term aims, but he will also act as a champion of diversity in all its forms.

Tom Ilube wants England to produce consistently successful teams (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Archive)

He believes rugby’s stuffy, elitist image is undeserved and must be challenged, while accepting that will not happen overnight.

“I’m the first black chair of a national sports governing body, which is actually quite interesting in its own right,” said Ilube, whose tech and data-focused business career includes spells as a non-executive director at the BBC and communications company WPP.

“I’m really pleased that rugby was the sport that made someone the first black chair, that’s great. And I’m quite comfortable being that person, talking to people and communicating my thoughts.

“That does have an impact over time. People say ‘who is involved in this’ and then they’ll start to get involved. I will talk a lot about it and help where I can.

“But I think you need diversity of all types to have genuine high-powered teams. Socio-economic diversity is really important as well. It’s something that’s really important to me in all its guises and I will be doing all I can to help.

England fielded a diverse team for the 2019 World Cup final (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Archive)

“Rugby is a brilliant game and I would encourage people from all backgrounds to get involved in it.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of black players and coaches and ex-players to get their take on it. They really love what the game has done for them, but they do feel the game could do more.

“Everyone says it’s a brilliant game and they all have suggestions about what could be done. I and we are listening to those suggestions.

“Sometimes you need to look at the things that are stopping young folk getting involved and it could be as simple as transport to and from clubs. We are doing a lot of work in this area.”

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