Essex signal ‘new beginning’ as Azeem Akhtar is named club chair

Essex signal 'new beginning' as Azeem Akhtar is named club chair

Essex have appointed their first minority-ethnic chair, 12 months after a racism scandal led to the ousting of the former incumbent.

Azeem Akhtar, a former chair of Active Essex who has also served as a board member at Sport England, was ratified by the club on Thursday, having been one of eight candidates elected to the board at this year’s AGM. He is currently lead customer chief technology officer at BT Global, while in 2016 he was named in the UK’s Top 100 Most Influential BAME Business Leaders.

He takes over from John Stephenson, the chief executive who had been Essex’s interim chair since November 2021, after John Faragher was forced to resign following allegations that he had used racist language in a board meeting in 2017, a claim that he continues to deny.
Essex were fined £50,000 by the Cricket Discipline Commission in the wake of that incident, but last summer the club were also found to have fallenb”significantly short” of the diversity targets set by the ECB, which stipulated that county boards needed to feature 30% female representation and “locally representative ethnicity” by the end of April 2022.

In the wake of Azeem Rafiq’s whistleblowing testimony about his treatment at Yorkshire, Essex had also been implicated in separate racism allegations, with former players Maurice Chambers, Zoheb Sharif and Jahid Ahmed all stating that they were victims of abuse during their playing days.

And while the findings of an independent report into those cases have yet to be made public, Akhtar’s appointment is a major step for Essex, which said in a statement that his tenure would “signal the beginning of a new era for the club”.

“I am extremely proud to be elected as the chair of Essex County Cricket Club,” Akhtar said. “From someone who is born and raised in Essex and a lifelong supporter of the club, I understand the importance of this great club to members, supporters, commercial partners and the wider community.

“I’m looking forward to working with the newly formed board and taking positive steps for the future of the club. Our ultimate aim is to make Essex the premier red- and white-ball cricketing county in England, whilst continuing to enhance and grow the game through our fantastic work in the community.”

Stephenson added: “Azeem was the standout candidate from a very strong field of potential candidates for the position of chair.

“Aside from his strong all-round skills set, since childhood he has been a regular visitor to the Cloud County Ground, being a lifelong Essex fan. He will bring vast experience and his passion for Essex cricket and I’m looking forward to working with him and the newly formed board.”

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