Tom Ilube was appointed the new head of England’s Rugby Football Union in June, marking a triumphant move to the peak of the sport despite a difficult start to life under the rule of dictator Idi Amin
New Rugby Football Union (RFU) chairman Tom Ilube has revealed he was held as a hostage during Idi Amin’s dictatorship of Uganda long before he was assigned the top job in English rugby.
Ilube officially started work as the new head of the RFU in August, and he’s hoping his own rise from obscurity can encourage others of all origins to succeed against the odds.
The 58-year-old has replaced Andy Cosslett to become the first black chair of any major sport in Britain, having proved himself as a titan of industry in the technological and business sectors.
Ilube was born in England but spent some time in Uganda during the 1970s when his father—a former soldier—was sent back overseas as an engineer.
It was during this time that Ilube was taken against his will by armed gunmen, although he remains unaware as to why.
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“My dad was from Nigeria originally and my mother’s English from up the road,” he said.
“And we went to East Africa – into Uganda at the time dictator Idi Amin took over…which was quite lively.
“And at one point I was tied up and nearly shot by security guys for some random reason. But eventually, we got out and got back to England.”
Amin ruled as president of Uganda from January 1971 until April 1979, when he was overthrown from office and forced into hiding.
The former despot is largely considered one of the most brutal leaders in history and was nicknamed the ‘Butcher of Uganda’, owing to the masses who were killed during his presidency.
Forty or so years later and Ilube has become accustomed to breaking boundaries, having been voted the most powerful person of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage in Britain in 2017.
It was during his days as a youngster that the Richmond native played as a fly-half or winger for London Welsh with dreams of one day representing his country.
While he may not have fulfilled that vision on the field, the former BBC non-executive director Ilube will hope to have an even greater impact thanks to his work off of it.
“I think it really does help younger people coming through if they see people that remind them of their own journey and it makes them think ‘if that chap can be in that position, why can’t I?’ And then they go for it,” he told BBC Sport.
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”It is really important that you see people from all backgrounds both on the pitch and in the boardroom – and in the coaching roles and in the match official roles.”
Ilube—who was named in the Queen’s 2018 Birthday Honours—is hoping to deliver success back to English rugby following a tough period for the national team.
That being said, Ilube’s remit will stretch far beyond the stars of today as he looks to inspire a new generation of athletes and leaders alike.
“I am early in the role and I am being careful to listen. I want to listen to a lot of people about where they see rugby going,” he added.
“It will be more open, more inclusive and the game will get faster.
“I think there will be more investment in the game over time, people wanting to get involved in the game, so I am really excited, and I think the [growth of the] women’s game will be absolutely key to what rugby as a whole looks like over the next decade.”