Essex under major pressure to sack new chair amid review into liking anti-Semitic tweets

Essex county cricket ground in Chelmsford - Nick Wood /Getty Images
Essex county cricket ground in Chelmsford - Nick Wood /Getty Images

Essex are under major pressure to sack new chairman Azeem Akhtar just days into his tenure after it emerged he had “liked” Twitter posts campaigners have branded antisemitic.

Akhtar has “voluntarily stepped aside” pending an independent review into his endorsement of the tweets, something first revealed by the Jewish Chronicle.

Their emergence is deeply embarrassing for Essex, who announced Akhtar as their first ethnic minority-chair on Monday, more than a year after his predecessor, John Faragher, was forced out over claims he used the racist term “n***er in the woodpile” – something he denies.

The latest storm raises major questions about the due diligence carried out prior to Akhtar’s appointment, presented as “the beginning of a new era” for a club engulfed last year by racism accusations by former players.

Among tweets liked by Akhtar since May 2021 were one that read: “It is not offensive to say that the Pro-Israel and Zionist lobby have deep pockets and oversized influence/control over the media.”

Another read: “Comparing Israel with Nazis is not antisemitic. In fact, many Jewish people have done so themselves.”

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Several of the tweets ‘liked’ by Azeem Akhtar breach the International Definition of Antisemitism. Comparisons between Israel and Nazis and comments about the ‘Zionist lobby’ are indefensible at any time, but in light of recent high-profile controversies relating to antisemitism in cricket, these tweets feel that much more odious.

“Having called for an investigation into Mr Akhtar’s social media activity, we welcome the independent review. But it must act swiftly and decisively to show that Mr Akhtar’s repugnant views have no place in the sport.”

Announcing he was stepping aside pending a review, Akhtar – who told the Jewish Chronicle he was “vehemently” not antisemitic – said: “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.”

Sir Stephen O’Brien has been appointed interim chairman.

Essex are bracing themselves for a difficult few months. Earlier this year, they were placed under a “non-compliance process” by the England and Wales Cricket Board having “fallen significantly short” on board diversity targets. This month, the former Essex bowler Jahid Ahmed will appear before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) committee investigating racism in cricket.

Elsewhere, Paul Farbrace has joined Sussex as head coach following the appointment of Ryan Campbell to the same position at Durham.

Former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace is to take up the reins at troubled club Sussex - Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace is to take up the reins at troubled club Sussex - Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Netherlands coach Campbell joins Durham on a three-year deal from January 1, replacing James Franklin. He was also considered the favourite for the Sussex job, which has been vacant since the end of the summer, but has opted for Durham.

Farbrace had emerged from left field to take over at Sussex, having not applied for the role. He will be joined in his coaching team by Grant Flower, who did apply for the top job. The pair are currently working together at Team Abu Dhabi in the T10 competition, and Flower has been very well regarded for his work as Sussex’s batting coach in recent times.

Farbrace is also the stepfather of one of the club’s prized assets, England bowler Ollie Robinson. Former England assistant coach Farbrace left his role as Warwickshire’s director of cricket, where he won the County Championship in 2021, at the end of the 2022 summer, and is working at the T10 and in the new International League (ILT20) in the UAE early next year. It is understood he will be able to continue his role in the ILT20, where he has a two-year contract.

He takes over at Sussex at a difficult time, following the departure of a series of disgruntled senior players due to pandemic cost-cutting. That has left a callow young side that has won just three first-class matches over the past three years.

Ian Salisbury, the red-ball team’s head coach, left his role in the middle of the summer, with the change not announced until the end of the season. James Kirtley, who was leading the T20 team, has returned to a role as assistant coach.

While Russell Domingo, the Bangladesh head coach, was involved in the process, Campbell had appeared the initial favourite for the Sussex job. But Campbell opted instead for Durham.

Campbell, 50, worked with Hong Kong before the Netherlands, having won two caps for Australia in 2002. Campbell, who links up with another West Australian, director of cricket Marcus North, said he hoped to bring a “no fear” approach to the Division Two county.

“I will be working with some of England’s best cricketers as well as a young squad full of talent and I hope to bring an attacking, no fear style of cricket to the club,” he said.

Meanwhile, Derbyshire have secured their head coach Mickey Arthur until the end of the 2025 season.