Rimla Akhtar, UK
Football Association Council
The FA Council has historically been stuffed with ‘blazers’, almost exclusively of one colour, and of an older generation. That Rimla Akhtar became the first Muslim woman to take up a seat on a board that drives policy for England’s national pastime is a measure of the influence she wields and respect she commands within British sport. Akhtar fully embraced her Muslim identity in public after growing weary of hiding her true self during an era of anti-Islam sentiment in the mid-2000s. She became chair of the Muslim Women Sports Foundation in 2005 and through their promotion of inclusivity and tolerance, particularly surrounding FIFA’s then-ban of the hijab, the FA soon discovered that Akhtar provided an invaluable voice for under-represented communities. She continues to advise and lead sports groups and bodies, both home and abroad, on issues of diversity within sport.
– Akhtar is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and grew up in London during the 1980s, when racism was rife.
– Founder of global sports development consultancy firm, Rhimjim Consulting, having started her career with Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
– Among her many roles, is a trustee of football anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out.
Did you know…
Akhtar is a gifted sportsperson and has represented the British Muslim Women’s futsal team as captain in a number of tournaments.
“For me, sport was just an area where I felt like I was accepted – nobody cared about the colour of my skin, that I wore a piece of cloth around my head, the fact I was a girl. All they cared about was how well I could play.” – Rimla Akhtar
Nita Ambani, India
Owner of the Mumbai Indians
Eleven years ago, Nita Ambani was bidding to become the owner of an IPL franchise. Since then, the Mumbai Indians have won three IPL trophies – and Ambani has become the most influential person in Indian sport. Buying a cricket franchise in India is one thing, but establishing a football league? Ambani founded the Indian Super League in 2014, the most significant development in modern Indian football. It’s seen football’s popularity in India skyrocket – just like she intended. Ambani, and the others in charge of Indian football, have the lofty goal of seeing India qualify for the 2026 World Cup. It’s not impossible: thanks in part to the ISL, the Indian team has shot up the rankings in the last year. But Ambani has even grander dreams. She’s a member of the International Olympic Committee, a role that comes with a holy grail: bringing the summer Olympics to India in 2032. If she can pull that off, the legacy Ambani will leave in Indian sport will be unmatched.
– Named 9th in Forbes’ inaugural list of the most powerful women in sport (2018).
– Ambani’s Reliance Foundation won the prestigious National Sports Award in 2017.
– The Reliance Foundation Youth Sports initiative has introduced sport to 4 million children in the last two years.
Did you know…
Nita Ambani is the first woman from India to be elected to the International Olympic Committee.
“Sport is not just about entertainment. It is equally about winning and losing, pooling and galvanising the energy of the youth, upgrading people’s physical fitness and mental prowess.” – Nita Ambani
Sophie Goldschmidt, UK
CEO of the World Surf League
When Goldschmidt became the first female CEO of the World Surf League (WSL) in 2017, many surfing enthusiasts were surprised with her appointment because the Englishwoman was not a surfer herself. But the 44-year-old has thrived in her first two years in the role, spearheading the global growth of surfing at a pivotal time in its history, especially with the inclusion of the sport on the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020. Coupled with the growth of online steaming and increase in wave pool technology worldwide, the Londoner is working tirelessly to elevate world surfing and announced in August that the WSL had decided to award male and female competitors equal prize money. With a track record that is incredibly impressive, she came into her position at the WSL after excelling in senior positions at the Rugby Football Union, the Women’s Tennis Association and the National Basketball Association. To underline the impact she made, when vice president of marketing and sponsorship at the WTA, she brokered the $88 million Sony Ericsson title sponsorship – the largest sponsorship deal in the history of women’s sports. And when at the RFU, she helped raise the profile of the Aviva Premiership, resulting in 10.5 million visits to rfu.com from 2013-2014. Now living and working in America, Goldschmidt continues to transform what was previously regarded as a niche sport into the realms of mainstream popularity.
– In January 2018, Goldschmidt announced the WSL had signed a two-year exclusive digital rights broadcast deal with Facebook worth $30 million.
– In April 2018, Goldschmidt was forced to cancel the The Margaret River Pro, the league’s second major competition, for safety reasons due to a spate of shark attacks.
– Forbes named her as the 15th Most Powerful Women In International Sports in 2018.
– She received a tennis scholarship to Baylor University in Texas and went on to secure a business degree.
– Goldschmidt made her professional tennis debut in 1991, playing doubles at the ITF Frinton tournament in England. However, injury forced her to quit playing shortly after.
Did you know…
Empowering women has always been an integral part of Goldshmidt’s mission, and she has done a superb job to balance prize funds between male and female surfers during her short tenure at WSL to date. In fact, in just over a year, she was able to achieve this.
“The reality is that women were held back for decades. They didn’t have the opportunity to compete and earn prize money at the same level. This was an inevitable next step.” – Sophie Goldschmidt (Source: Fortune Magazine)