by NADEEM BADSHAH
Ikram Butt has gone from facing fearsome tackles on the rugby field to tackling domestic violence.
The former England international, 48, works with the White Ribbon campaign, which highlights abuse against women and girls.
Butt, the first British Asian to play rugby for England, told Eastern Eye some clubs and governing bodies could do more to highlight the issue, but praised the work of Leicestershire cricket club.
The county’s CEO, Wasim Khan, will be playing alongside Butt in two cricket games in September to raise awareness of the charity’s work.
It comes after Mustafa Bashir, 33, who admitted attacking his wife with a cricket bat and forcing her to drink bleach was jailed for 18 months in April after being accused of lying
to the court that he had a contract with Leicestershire.
The cricket club accused Bashir of “inventing” the job offer “to evade a prison sentence”.
Butt praised Khan for speaking out against Bashir and said more sporting chiefs need to do the same.
“I spoke to Wasim, he said he knew nothing about [Bashir] and spoke out against it. In other clubs and sports, they have gone quiet or signed players with convictions.
“Wasim is one of the few CEOs who came out and signed up as an ambassador. I wish we had more heroes like this so this evil act can be stopped.
“Clubs and individuals could do more when it comes to challenging violence against women and girls.
“We are going up and down the country working with clubs and sporting bodies. We have a pledge to never condone or commit violence against girls.”
The Leeds-born campaigner knows firsthand the role sport can play in helping to turn lives around.
In his biography Tries and Prejudice, which is now released on Amazon Kindle, he details how he and his older brother Khurshid played rugby league, his late father boxed for the Pakistani Air Force and his sisters played netball.
Butt, who played for clubs including Leeds, London Broncos and Huddersfield Giants, said sport needed to do more to engage the Asian community and parents must provide more support.
“I have been an ambassador for Kick It Out for 20 years. We have produced couple of documents which demonstrates there is a desperate need for sports to do more.
“There are pockets of examples of good work from governing bodies and clubs, however across the board there is a lot of work to be done.
“In rugby, we are behind, there are good projects. In cricket with the number of Asians playing there’s still not enough coming through the system.”
He added: “Our communities need to reach out too. You have got examples
like Adil Rashid. His parents travelled, taking him to games.
“When I was playing rugby, parents were taking them away from the sport as they were frightened they would get hurt, it may take them away from their culture or religion.
“Our communities are sometimes quick to blame ‘they won’t select us’.
My career shows I was still able to excel and break through.”
Butt, who has discussed government policy on community involvement in sport with MPs, said he broke through the professional ranks despite suffering racism from spectators.
“When I was playing in the amateur game, from spectators it was in your face, ‘you P**i so and so’.
“At first I wasn’t too sure how to deal with it. Growing up in the heart of Leeds, near Headingley Stadium, I didn’t really suffer any racism growing up as I grew up in multicultural street.
“My father was a fantastic role model, the determination he instilled in us has held us in good stead.
“It helped me rise above it and play hard but fair, let your performance do the talking. Then challenge it verbally and say this isn’t acceptable.”
Butt said at times during his career in the 1980s and 1990s he felt he was treated differently due to his race.
“During training I was the last to be in the team. Some would say you pick your mates, but if it was on ability I was better than most.
“There were periods when I was playing I had a fall out with one of the coaches, it certainly wasn’t down to my ability or performances.
“I was dropped and had a couple of games in the reserves. At the end of the season this individual was sacked and I was picked for England.
“Now when I am in the corridors of professional clubs and governing
bodies, there is still a huge gap when it comes to engaging and encouraging Asian participation.”
One way he has tried to tackle the problems around diversity is setting up the British Asian Rugby Association which mentors Asian players.
He said: “It is a statement that Asians are just as passionate about the sport.
“We had a few Asians playing in the game before my time (but they) moved on because there were no avenues.
“We didn’t want to go down the road of an Asian team but the mix of the diverse communities that we have to learn about each other’s cultures and religions.”