Blog: Rimla Akhtar MBE Elected to FA National Game Board

When I joined the FA Council in 2014, I was one of four women, one of four non-white people and less than half the average age of the Council membership.  I was then the youngest member of Council, ever.  The then Chairman of the FA had called the national game Council members “male, pale and stale” and I had been the first person elected to help change the landscape of football from an inclusion perspective before another would join me six months later.

It’s always been important for me to be open and honest about issues of discrimination and the lack of inclusion.  There have been moments where things have got real.  There have been moments where, if I’d stayed quiet and not spoken my truth, my life would be so much easier and I would have personally progressed further quicker.  But that wouldn’t be progress for us.  It would also be a slap in the face for those who have gone before me.  And yet the feedback from Council colleagues with me speaking my truth included words such as “dynamism”, “strong”, “well-regarded”.

In an age where the fault lines of racism, sexism and Islamophobia have rippled across our societies, from the playing field, to the Houses of Parliament to the streets of Britain, I am pleased to let you know that just under two weeks ago, I was elected by my peers to represent them on the National Game Board of the FA, a select group of 12 people who help run the entire grassroots game in England alongside the FA Executive, with almost 60% of the vote (there were eight candidates).  I’ve also been elected Chair of the National Game Finance Committee, a position traditionally held by a main FA Board member.  We’ve wanted representation in positions of influence.  I hope you’ll celebrate that we’ve made it through and will continue upwards together.

At the outset, when considering whether to take up the nomination, I was apprehensive.  I was told to not “get upset” if I wasn’t elected.  But, as in 2014 when I put myself forward to be elected to the FA Council by my peers, I decided, with encouragement from those “pale, male and stale” Council members, that I must stand and be counted.  Those same Council members who encouraged me, and more, are now the ones who come to me insistently stating, “you will make change happen, won’t you?”

Whilst the politics of the world continues to drastically change, I’m looking for action, not answers that simply soothe, or fights that have no long-term gain.  I’ve wanted a change in the conversation about representation and visibility, but also a change in actual representation and visibility.  Recent appointments to the FA Council and my own elections to leadership within the national game show that football is ready for it.

In all this, I remember that now, even more than before, my job is to empower others.  We build each other up because we know what it is like to be torn down.  That’s why I am proud of our Get on Board programme at RimJhim Consulting, and it’s why I’m proud of my brothers and sisters who continue to work hard for their opportunities.  At the Community Shield last Sunday, a friend and long-time champion fighter of discrimination asked me why I wasn’t on the Tackling Racism show that focused on women just earlier last week.  My response was and is, isn’t it great that I didn’t need to be there?  You know you’ve had the impact you’ve worked so hard for when you are no longer needed.

Yes, the FA leadership is still overwhelmingly white and male, but much has changed over these five years.  We see a genuine heartfelt movement amongst an increasing number of those FA leaders that is kept afloat by the support and challenge from those on the outside as well as those of us on the inside.  None of this changes the fact that overt and structural racism is rife, but I am hopeful.  I am proud to have taken this next step and I hope this success means we become part of the crowd rather than lone voices.  I hope that we will side step the growing divisions outside of football and continue to unite within the game and use the game to unite all.  I am nourished by this hope.  I see the change.  I feel a part of it.  I aim to drive it.  I learn so much from colleagues within and outside the FA.  This is the power of the collective, the movement that includes us all.  And those who’ve selected me to represent them are very much a part of that movement.