More strife for Essex as new chair Azeem Akhtar resigns after three days

Azeem Akhtar, the new chair of Essex, has stepped down after just three days in the role, ahead of an independent review into his social media activity.

The appointment of Akhtar, Essex’s first minority-ethnic chair, was this week hailed by the club as a “new beginning”, 12 months on from the controversial departure of the former chair, John Faragher, who continues to deny that he used racist language in a board meeting in 2017.

Instead, however, the club has been plunged back into turmoil, following revelations in the Jewish Chronicle that Akhtar had ‘liked’ anti-semitic posts on Twitter, including one that compared Israel to Nazi Germany.

He had been due to take over from John Stephenson, the chief executive who has been interim chair since Faragher’s departure last November. However, Sir Stephen O’Brien, Akhtar’s deputy, will now stand in as interim.

“I have taken the decision today to voluntarily step aside as Chair of Essex County Cricket Club while an independent review takes place into recent matters that have been raised,” Akhtar said in a club statement.

“I have made the decision to initiate this review because it is important that I as Chair and Essex County Cricket Club more widely hold ourselves to the highest standards of governance and accountability. By stepping aside, I want to show leadership and ensure the Club can focus on the ongoing challenges it is tackling.

“I am resolutely committed to ensuring that Essex County Cricket Club is an inclusive and welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds.”

It’s a further embarrassment for Essex, who were fined £50,000 by the Cricket Discipline Commission last summer following Faragher’s departure, and were further found to have fallen “significantly short” of the diversity targets set by the ECB, which stipulated that county boards needed to feature 30% female representation and “locally representative ethnicity” by the end of April 2022. Akhtar’s departure further exacerbates that shortfall.

In the wake of Azeem Rafiq’s whistleblowing testimony about his treatment at Yorkshire, Essex had also been implicated 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.