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Tom Ilube: RFU’s first black chairman hopes the appointment will inspire others

Tom Ilube’s appointment as RFU chairman was confirmed in March

The new chairman of Rugby Football Union hopes his appointment as the highest post in English rugby can inspire others to make a difference at all levels of the game.

Tom Ilube, the first black chairman of a major sport, wants to present a “great and exciting vision” for rugby union for the next decade as well.

He hopes that the combination of victorious English rugby teams and dynamic and inclusive grassroots football will lead to young people “flocking into the game”.

Born in Surrey to an English mother and Nigerian father, Ilube began playing rugby at the age of 10 and has been a supporter and parent in the sport ever since.

“I’m really very proud to have come this far as a community rugby player, watching my son play around the country and then becoming chairman of the RFU,” he told BBC Sport.

“There was a match – the London Welsh v Llanelli in 1975 – and I scored a try in the junior match that came before, and it was in the rugby special. [Commentator] Nigel Starmer-Smith said ‘will one of these guys play for your country one day?’

“I didn’t succeed. But I did manage to become chairman of the RFU, which is not bad.”

England's head coach Eddie Jones trains young playersEngland head coach Eddie Jones recently completed a coaching session with young players

And Ilube has urged those involved in rugby governance to think long-term and look a decade into the future so the sport can reach its potential.

“I really wish there was more talk of what rugby should be like by 2030,” he said.

“We in rugby often look to the next World Cup – a four-year cycle – I think we have to allow ourselves to look 10 years out. We have to paint a big vision, an exciting vision of what our sport could be like.” 2030 in a way that will attract brilliant people and advance the game today.

“And we need the players and the teams today to win because if they win they’ll bring young people into the game. We see that in every sport. You win and young people flock into the game. “

Diversity on the square and in the boardroom “important”

With England’s diverse men’s senior team representing a variety of backgrounds, Ilube believes his off-field role could also help inspire the next generation.

“I think it really helps younger people get through when they see people reminding them of their own journey, and it makes them think, ‘if this guy can be in this position, why can’t I?’ And then they do it, ”he explained.

“It’s really important that you see people from all backgrounds both on the pitch and in the boardrooms – in the coaching roles and in the functions of match officials.”

As a businessman and entrepreneur, Ilube’s accomplishments were recognized when he was featured on the 2017 Powerlist, which recognizes influential people in the UK with African or Afro-Caribbean heritage.

“When I went home and said to my wife, who is also black, ‘Do you know that I am the most powerful black man in England?’

“And she said, ‘You? You’re not even the most powerful black guy in this house. ‘ So she put me in my place there, “he joked.

“What the Powerlist got interested in was that I had accomplished what I had achieved in my business career and philanthropic side, and they were very interested in highlighting people who had success on this side as well as people in the public eye, entertainment and sports side. ”

“There are so many options and I think if people see people like me, a black executive in a senior position in sport, in time I can make a difference.”

“Open and honest discussions” on the subject of security

With the sport facing an existential security crisis, Ilube has asked parents to join the governing bodies on a journey to make the game safer.

Many former professional players take legal action against the sports authorities after diagnosing early-onset dementia.

“Hearing the stories of ex-players is very moving and also helps ensure we have open and honest conversations and discuss the things we need to do in the future,” added Ilube.

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“The RFU and World Rugby in the broader sense are doing a lot in this area, science has come a long way, what we do with instrumented mouthguards, what we do with saliva tests for concussion, rule changes, all of these things will continue to have an impact make the game safer as we advance.

“I really want to challenge parents to embark on this journey. I am a parent myself, my son plays and I understand the need for our sport to be a safe sport that everyone can participate in.”

And despite the many challenges the sport faces in terms of governance, security, or spectacle, Ilube is optimistic about the game’s future.

“I’m early in the role and I’m a good listener. I want to listen to a lot of people watching rugby,” he said.

“It’s getting more open, more inclusive and the game is getting faster.

“I think there will be more investment in the game over time, people who want to get involved in the game, so I’m really excited and I think they do [growth of the] Women’s football will be the absolute key to what rugby looks like overall over the next decade. “

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