RFL appoint Simon Johnson as chair and add new directors with promise of 'forward-thinking' approach

RFL's new chairman Simon Johnson
RFL's new chairman Simon Johnson

Simon Johnson has been appointed as the Rugby Football League’s new chairman and insisted the governing body will aim to be “open and transparent” under his leadership while offering a “fresh” approach.

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He is joined on a reshaped Board by two new non-executive directors - Rimla Akhtar MBE and Sandy Lindsay MBE - with the appointments presented for ratification to December’s meeting of the Rugby League Council.

Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE

Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE

Johnson joined the RFL Board in 2014 and has been interim chairman since Brian Barwick stood down in July.

He is the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, and has had a 20-year career operating at the highest levels of the sports and media industries – including spells as senior lawyer at the Premier League, and Director of Corporate Affairs at The Football Association.

Previously, he had spent 10 years with ITV, the majority as Director of Rights and Business Affairs.

Johnson said: “I am thrilled and honoured to have been nominated to be Chair of the Rugby Football League.

Sandy Lindsay MBE

Sandy Lindsay MBE

“I am particularly proud to be able to lead a reshaped Board, with the right combination of continuity and experience, and a fresh and different approach.

“As recommended in the Independent Board Evaluation conducted earlier this year, we have added a new range of skills with our new NED appointments.

“The Board will look and feel different, bringing increased diversity of thinking and experience.

“The Board will be forward-thinking and will aim to be open and transparent, to promote a compelling narrative about Rugby League and be articulate in showing strategic leadership to the game and the public.”

The Independent Board Evaluation commissioned in late 2018 recommended an expansion of the RFL Board to be fit for the future.

Independent executive search specialists were appointed to steer a rigorous process which has involved representatives of all sections of the game – Super League, Championship / League One and the Community Game – in addition to Sport England.

Dr Akhtar MBE has more than 18 years’ 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 FA Council in addition to her role on the Inclusion Advisory Board at the FA, and in 2015 she was awarded an MBE for her contribution to equality and diversity in sport.

Chris Brindley MBE and Chris Hurst are the other non-executive directors in a seven-strong Board that also includes executive directors Ralph Rimmer - the RFL chief executive - and Karen Moorhouse – the RFL’s Chief Regulatory Officer.

Akhtar said: “This is an exciting time to become a member of the RFL Board. “Whether it’s the World Cup in 2021 and its legacy, the huge potential for growth in the women’s game, or the way that this sport reaches communities that other sports do not, there are so many opportunities to grow the game from grassroots through to professional.

“Having followed Rugby League for a number of years and now having had the opportunity to meet those who have dedicated much of their lives to the game, I’m honoured and cannot wait to help shape the future for this sport that is loved by everyone who engages with it.”

Lindsay MBE is Chair of Tangerine, the specialist creative communications agency she founded in Manchester in 2002.

In 2015 she was awarded the MBE for services to business and young people, and in the same year she was named North West Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors (and Highly Commended in the same awards nationally).

Lindsay said: “The Rugby Football League role ‘found me’ at a time when I was looking to spread my wings into new and exciting sectors and challenges, having recently put Tangerine into Employee Ownership. The League has been through interesting times of late and there are very exciting growth opportunities to be had, especially with the World Cup on the horizon in 2021. I’m very much looking forward also to seeing how I can bring my community and business links into play on behalf of the sport.”