University of Leicester and Sporting Equals address lack of diversity in sports leadership

A programme designed to support and prepare people from minority ethnic backgrounds for future governance and leadership roles in UK sport has completed its fourth year.

LeaderBoard Academy, a partnership project between Sporting Equals and the University of Leicester, welcomed participants from across the UK to Leicester for two packed days of activities, including a visit to King Power Stadium.

Participants of the programme come from a variety of sectors including sports development, media and journalism, the corporate and legal sectors, youth development for girls in sport and exercise, and Premiership Rugby.

The first two days of the fourth LeaderBoard Academy took place at College Court at the University of Leicester on the 9th & 10th November 2022.

They were welcomed to College Court at the University of Leicester by the Sporting Equals Chair, Densign White MBE, and the University of Leicester’s Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Professor Henrietta O’Connor on Wednesday, November 9.

Head of Sporting Systems at UK Sport, Robert Morini, addressed the cohort of participants by laying out details of the UK sporting landscape.

Michael Davis, the Head of Finance at England Athletic Limited, then discussed risk management and the responsibilities of UK sports boards.

High Sheriff of Leicestershire, Mehmooda Duke MBE, passionately spoke about being the first woman, the first person from an ethnic minority background, and the first Muslim to serve as Chair of a first-class county cricket club, Leicestershire. During her time at LCCC, she changed governance structures and introduced a new approach to engagement with local South Asian and other minority communities.

Ameesh Manek was the first South Asian Academy Director in the Premier League (Arsenal FC) and he is now the Business Operations & Academy Director at Brentford FC. He spoke to the cohort about resilience, learning from mistakes, and the importance of planning and networking.              

John Williams LeaderBoard programme director for the University of Leicester said: “We know what our LBA participants want and need from this course. We select our speakers very carefully.

“Most are successful people in sport from minority ethnic backgrounds. We try to cover all bases in terms of barriers they will face, but also knowledge and useful strategies concerning leadership and board duties, taken from the ‘inside’ of elite sport.

“Our participants ask tough questions, so this is also a learning experience for our contributors.”

During a visit to Leicester City FC, participants of the LeaderBoard programme were hosted for an invaluable session at the King Power Stadium by Allison Tripney, Head of Community at Leicester City FC, along with a panel of sports facilitators and leaders from Leicester City in the Community – including one previous LeaderBoard participant.

The University of Leicester hosted a dinner at College Court with over 70 guests, including representatives from UK sport’s governing bodies. Amongst them was cricketer, Azeem Rafiq, who formerly captained Yorkshire CCC and spoke about the pressures he faced following his very public revelations about racism inside cricket which had finally forced the sport to face its problems.

During the second day of activities (10 November), Arun Kang, CEO of Sporting Equals, spoke about the importance of his organisation and pointed out how poorly most sports are currently doing in terms of recruiting people from minority ethnic backgrounds into leadership positions.

John Williams provided a talk about how deeply racism is ingrained in the history of English and US sport and how vital it is that we continue to expose and challenge it in all its forms.

Professor Surinder Sharma, from DICE at the University of Leicester, then spoke about the legal challenges concerning racism by public and private bodies and the means available for addressing it in sport.

Beverly Mason, Senior Independent Director, and Lorraine Deshamps MBE, Trustee at Sport Equals also offered a session on identifying and showing leadership qualities.               

Arun Kang OBE, CEO of Sporting Equals said:

“This was the most exciting delivery of LeaderBoard Academy to date.

“The quality of speakers and the subjects discussed represent a great step in the right direction to empower these future Board members.

“We had excellent candidates again this year, with a range of experience and roles in the cohort.

“As we heard from Azeem Rafiq in the Q&A, and throughout the two days, it is the diversity of thought that matters, not simply having representation on the board.

“These leaders are well on their way to enacting change right now.”

After lunch on day two, the LeaderBoard group visited the Guru Nanak Gurdwara (GNG) football club in Leicester, hosted by club stalwart Kulwinder Singh.

Kulwinder described the successful development of the club, the challenges it has faced in the local sport setting, and what he hopes the future will look like for its many members, who are drawn from an increasingly wide range of minority ethnic backgrounds.

LeaderBoard convenes again in Leicester for one more day in January 2023, when the focus will be on practical preparations for applying for sports board opportunities.