'We should be and we will be the dominant rugby nation in the world'
Tom Ilube is convinced England will become the dominant nation in world rugby. The start-up entrepreneur and philanthropist was appointed chair of the Rugby Football Union earlier this year, in the process becoming the first black head of a major national sporting body, and he has big plans for the sport.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday as he chose his Desert Island Discs, Ilube spoke about his vision for the future of the game in England.
He said: “The women’s game is growing massively and I’m really, really excited about that, so I want to see the women’s game growing.
“I want to see more diversity on the pitch and off the pitch and I just want to see the strength of England rugby growing and growing.
“We should be and we will be the dominant rugby nation in the world. I’m really excited about that.”
Ilube, a physics graduate who was born in Richmond to a Nigerian father and a white English mother, grew up in England, Nigeria and Uganda and admitted his teenage years in London were enjoyable but tough at times.
He said: “My early teenage years in the 70s were wonderful, everyone around. It was rugby, parties, afros, ice-skating, Chopper bikes, all that good stuff, and I was figuring out my identity as a mixed-race kid in 1970s London.
“I loved it. It could be tough. Early 70s, London, you’re a little black boy and the sort of overt racism that you have to experience, you have to figure out how to deal with it.
“But then I was a rugby boy and I had my friends around me and if I had to fight, then I’d fight and if I didn’t have to, then I’d navigate and we found a way through, so it was okay.”
Asked if he had been able to be tough when he needed to, he replied: “Yes, absolutely. I could definitely stand my own in the playground.”
Ilube recalled his tears at being blacked up for a part in the opening night of a school play with his mother and some of his siblings due to be among the audience, and the memories of having to protect himself against the racism which came his way.
He said: “You do have to do that sometimes. You know what’s happening, but you have to put on armour and go out anyway, so I’ve sort of had to do that over the years.
“I’ve got quite good at that. But I was pretty small then, so that was a bit tough to do.”
Ilube’s time in Uganda included a traumatic experience which saw him and a friend tied up by Idi Amin’s troops as suspected looters after they had gone to visit a neighbour.
He said: “Fortunately, my dad was driving home just at that time and then he looked and he thought, ‘I know that little looter over there’.
“It was a pretty tough time. He came over and begged them and they untied us and stood us up.”
*Desert Island Discs will be broadcast on on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11am.
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