New RFU President Tom Ilube on Improving Rugby Diversity

There is a new Rugby Football Union (RFU) president, and speaking publicly for the first time since taking office, historian Tom Ilube has laid out ambitious plans to transform English rugby and do more to make it happen. to do a sport for all.

Ilube, 58, who officially started working at Twickenham in early August, becomes the first black president of a major UK national sports governance body.

He comes into the role with an impressive resume, a remarkable childhood and a solid foundation in a sport that Ilube says needs to do more to improve diversity after having already met a number of influential players.

“I’m the first black president of a national sports governing body, and I’m pretty comfortable being that person,” said Ilube, who was announced as Andy Coslett’s successor in March.

“I’m really happy that rugby was the sport that made someone the first black chair. Rugby is a brilliant game and I encourage people from all walks of life to get involved. “

“I’m not fancy – I don’t come from a fancy background”


Born to a Nigerian father and an English mother, a young Ilube spent time with foster care before moving to his father’s homeland and Uganda.

His arrival in Uganda coincided with the seizure of power by dictator Idi Amin; As a child, Ilube was tied up and nearly shot by security officers in the East African country.

A talented winger in school, Ilube played for the London Welsh as a teenager, while his son Matthew spent time with the Wasps and Newcastle. An education philanthropist, the 58-year-old has established schools in Ghana, Lancashire and Hammersmith.

Having held the top position for a four-year term, Ilube believes he and his organization can change the reputation of rugby: “I’m not fancy, I don’t come from a fancy background. I am a type of host family who was educated in a public school and I am the president of the RFU. I think we can change perceptions over time.

“I think it takes diversity of all types to have real powerful teams. Socio-economic diversity is also very important. This is something that is really important to me in all its forms and I will do whatever I can to help.

“Talking to black players, they really like what the game has done for them. But, and everyone has different points of view, they think the game could do more.

“I was talking to a former black man in the military who played rugby in his day and he was saying that the leadership qualities and the ethics that you get in rugby, we should sell them.

“There is this perception [of rugby] in the minds of some people and it doesn’t quite correspond to reality – having people like Ellis Genge and others who are really pretty confident in the way they talk about where they come from is great.

“Sometimes you have to look at the things that keep young people from getting involved and it can be as simple as transportation to and from clubs. We do a lot of work in this area. “

Ilube arrives with a solid reputation in both the corporate and entrepreneurial sectors. The new RFU chairman spent time at British Airways, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Goldman Sachs and the London Stock Exchange before spending the last 20 years developing, financing and selling a succession of companies.

England mainstay Ellis Genge has been named Leicester Tigers’ new captain

(AP Archives)

He holds a non-executive position at advertising giants WPP, having previously served on the BBC’s board of directors, and in 2017 as the head of the Power list, an annual list of the UK’s 100 most powerful people with African or Afro-Caribbean heritage.

Ilube has special knowledge and familiarity with private equity negotiations and the use of data and technology, two areas of growing importance in sport and at the RFU, and believes that rugby can be ‘two or two. three times bigger ”.

“Everyone knows what happened 10, 20, 25 years ago,” Ilube explained. “Sometimes that’s where the conversations start: ‘This guy, I spoke to him 25 years ago, and we did that …’

“I hear a little less of the conversation of people saying ‘this is what I think rugby should look like by 2030’, which is not that far away.

“We need as clear a idea as possible of this, and then we’re headed for it. The game can be much bigger than it is now in terms of impact and money going into the game. It could be two to three times bigger than it is today. “

The RFU is hoping to more than double women’s participation in the sport, with a target of 100,000 players by 2027, with the new president admitting he hopes England’s men’s and women’s teams will be world champions.

In his first public engagement since officially taking office in early August, Ilube also confirmed that England are preparing a bid to host the 2031 Rugby World Cup.

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