Essex signals ‘fresh start’ as Azeem Akhtar named club chairman

Essex has appointed its first ethnic minority president, 12 months after a racist scandal led to the ousting of the former incumbent.

Azeem Akhtar, a former chairman of Active Essex who has also served as a member of the Sport England board, was ratified by the club on Thursday, after being one of eight candidates elected to the board during the this year’s AGM. He is currently Senior Director of Client Technology at BT Global, while in 2016 he was named one of BAME’s 100 most influential business leaders in the UK.

He succeeds John Stephenson, the chief executive who had been interim chairman of Essex since November 2021, after John Faragher was forced to resign following allegations that he used racist language during a meeting of the board in 2017, a claim he continues to deny.
Essex were fined £50,000 by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee over the incident, but last summer the club were also found to have fallen ‘significantly short’ of targets for diversity set by the ECB, which stipulated that county councils must have 30% female representation and “locally representative ethnicity” by the end of April 2022.

Following Azeem Rafiq’s whistleblower testimony about his treatment at Yorkshire, Essex had also been embroiled in separate racism allegations, with former players Maurice Chambers, Zoheb Sharif and Jahid Ahmed all saying they suffered abuse during their play days.

And although the findings of an independent report into the cases have yet to be made public, Akhtar’s appointment is a major milestone for Essex, who said in a statement that his tenure “would signal the start of ‘a new era for the club’.

“I am extremely proud to have been elected Chairman of Essex County Cricket Club,” said Akhtar. “From someone who was born and raised in Essex and a lifelong supporter of the club, I understand the importance of this great club to members, supporters, business partners and the community in the sense wide.

“I look forward to working with the new board and taking positive steps for the future of the club. Our ultimate goal is to make Essex the premier red-and-white-ball cricketing county in England, while at the same time continuing to improve and grow the game through our fantastic work in the community.”

Stephenson added: “Azeem was the standout candidate among a very strong group of potential candidates for the position of President.

“Besides his strong all-round skills, since childhood he has been a regular visitor to the Cloud County Ground, being a lifelong Essex fan. He will bring a wealth of experience and passion for Essex cricket and I look forward to working with him. him and the newly formed board of directors.”

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