Inclusivity specialist stands down from RFL Board while groundbreaking partnership ends

AN experienced administrator who champions inclusivity in sport is to step down from the RFL Board for personal reasons.

Chair Simon Johnson says the governing body is “deeply saddened” by the imminent departure of Dr Rimla Akhtar after four years.

The Londoner has long experience in the sports industry across the UK, Middle East and Asia, after a successful career in the City at leading global professional services firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

In 2014, she became the first Muslim and Asian woman on the Football Association Council in addition to her role on that body’s Inclusion Advisory Board.

In 2015, she was made an MBE, and in 2021, awarded an OBE, both for her contribution to equality and diversity in sport.

Akhtar was ranked 14th in the 2018 Forbes global list of the most powerful women in sport.

She founded the leading global sport development consultancy RimJhim Consulting, was chair of the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation until December 2018 and co-founded the global Muslim Women in Sport Network.

“Rimla has been an outstanding colleague and made an exceptional contribution to Rugby League over the last four years,” said Johnson.

“She has brought her rigour and professionalism to the Board and to the Audit and Risk Committee, always helping our people to be their best.

“She has ensured that inclusion is at the heart of the RFL and the work of the Board, driving the establishment and development of the sport’s first Inclusion Board.

“I know she will always be welcomed by all in Rugby League as a valued friend and supporter of the sport.”

Akhtar said: “I chose to apply for this role because of the impact that this sport has in its communities and the potential it has to reach even more to make a positive difference more widely.

“I brought my strong values, many of which are aligned with those of the RFL, and looked to ensure that we always do the right thing for the sport, and each other.

“I have appreciated the opportunity to serve the people of Rugby League through the RFL and wish the best for everyone involved with this special sport.”

The RFL will begin a recruitment process for a new non-executive director in the New Year.”

Meanwhile the ground-breaking short-term partnership between the RFL and executive search firm Inclusive Boards has concluded with both parties celebrating its success.

Inclusive Boards specialises in supporting organisations to become more inclusive, through greater board diversity and stronger governance structures, and worked with the RFL to help broaden and strengthen the skills, knowledge and expertise within club boardrooms.

Ten – Barrow, Halifax Huddersfield, Hunslet, Midlands Hurricanes, Salford,  Sheffield, Swinton, Wakefield and Widnes – were involved in the club board diversity project.

It culminated in 14 appointments, enhancing both the skill set and diversity at boardroom level within the sport (31 percent of those joining boards are women, 46 percent ethnically diverse, 23 percent disabled and 15 percent describe themselves as LGBTQ+.

RFL chief executive Tony Sutton said: “The project aimed to ensure Rugby League’s reputation for inclusion at all levels applies at the very highest level – in club boardrooms.

“I’d like to thank the clubs involved for engaging so enthusiastically and helping develop resources for all professional clubs.”