Ikram Butt’s association with Rugby League has taken him on a remarkable and inspirational journey. Ikram grew up in the Hyde Park area of Leeds and his first memories of the sport revolve around playing in the streets and the playground of his local school, Royal Park. He and his older brother Tony were encouraged to participate in all sports by their parents and their father, who had been a champion boxer whilst serving in the Pakistan Air Force, took them to join a junior club at Apperley Bridge.
As Ikram’s interest in the game grew he became a regular on the Headingley terraces and his playing performances began to catch the eye of various professional clubs. One of these was Leeds and in 1987 he made what seemed to be dream move by following in the footsteps of Tony to sign for the team he supported. Unfortunately, however, things did not work out. Despite earning selection for England Colts, he found first team opportunities were scarce and joined Featherstone in 1990.
Under the tutelage of Peter Fox his career began to take off at Post Office Road. His high work rate and powerful running made him an integral part of a developing Featherstone side. Perhaps the high point of his time with the club was the Challenge Cup run which saw Featherstone come within one match of a Wembley appearance, before losing to Ikram’s old club Leeds at Elland Road.
The semi final defeat came in 1995, a year that proved to be momentous for both Ikram and the game in general. At the start of the year he was selected for the Great Britian squad and on 1st February 1995 ran out against Wales in Cardiff to become England’s first Muslim rugby international in either code. Then, shortly after the semi final, the launch of Super League changed the whole complexion of the game and with Featherstone left out of the new competition Ikram was forced to move clubs in order to stay in the top flight. He took the brave decision to sign for the London Broncos and move down to London, spending 18 months in the capital before returning north to join Huddersfield and then Hunslet, where his career in the professional game came to end.
Whilst still playing for Hunslet, Ikram was appointed rugby league development officer for Bradford council. The job entailed promoting rugby league amongst the City’s Asian community and led to a new chapter in his association with the game. In 2002 he formed the South Asia Bulls team and shortly after the British Amateur Rugby Association (BARA) which has worked successfully to help address some of social issues that face South Asian communities through participation in both codes of Rugby.
Ikram’s leadership and considerable achievements have brought wide recognition. In 2007 he won an Asian Power 100 Future Leaders Award and in 2008 received an award from Baroness Haymen at the British Muslim Honours ceremony held in the House of Lords. The work of BARA was also praised by Prime Minister Gordon Brown during PM Question Time in 2008 and the organisation was officially endorsed by then Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP. Ikram has recently re-joined his first club Leeds as ‘Connecting Communities’ Manager under the auspices of the Leeds Rugby Foundation & Leeds Metropolitan University. He has also recently published his autobiography ‘Tries and Prejudice – The Ikram Butt Story’.