Essex signal ‘new beginning’ as Azeem Akhtar named club manager

Essex has appointed its first ethnic minority leader, 12 months after a racism scandal saw the previous incumbent ousted.

Azeem Akhtar, a former chairman of Active Essex who has also served as a Sport England board member, was ratified by the club on Thursday, after being one of eight candidates elected to the board at this year’s AGM. He is currently the lead customer manager for technology 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 chairman since November 2021, after John Faragher was forced to resign following allegations he had used racist language at a board meeting in 2017, a claim he continues to deny.
Essex were fined £50,000 by the Cricket Discipline Commission in the wake of this incident, but last summer the club were also found to have fallen “significantly short” of the diversity targets set by the ECB, which stipulated that county boards must have 30% female representation and ” locally representative ethnicity” by the end of April 2022.

In the wake of Azeem Rafiq’s whistleblower testimony about his treatment at Yorkshire, Essex had also become embroiled 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 these matters have yet to be made public, Akhtar’s appointment is a major step for Essex, who 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 Chairman of Essex County Cricket Club,” said Akhtar. “From someone born and bred 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 look 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 cricket county in England, whilst continuing to improve and grow the game through our wonderful work in the community.”

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

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

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