Board and Executive team

Find out more about our Main Board and Executive team

Board

Nick Bitel (Chair)

Nick Bitel was appointed Chair of Sport England in April 2013 following three years as a Board Member.  He has been the Chief Executive of the London Marathon, the world's most successful city centre marathon, since 1995. The event has grown substantially in that time and now sees over 35,000 finishers each year who between them raise a world record £65.1 million per annum.

Nick is also a solicitor and consultant at Kerman & Co specialising in sports law.  His major event clients include The Wimbledon Championships and the UEFA. Nick is a Board Member of UK Sport and a trustee of the Wimbledon Foundation.

Natalie Ceeney (Vice Chair)

Natalie joined the Sport England board in June 2018, adding to her other non-executive director roles at Countrywide PLC and Anglian Water, as well as her position as chair of Innovate Finance.

Her career's spanned the public and private sectors, with an early career in the NHS preceding CEO roles at the Financial Ombudsman Service, the National Archives and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Throughout Natalie's career she has maintained a passion for sport and activity, for both mental and physical health - this included being appointed the first civil service wellbeing champion.

Natalie herself is a regular cyclist and attributes cycling to keeping her in a positive mental state through breast cancer.

Chris Grant

Chris’ background is in group dynamics and organisation development. In 2001, he co-founded the consultancy 14A, where his assignments have ranged from chairing the board of the UK Chip & PIN Programme to designing and delivering interventions for the BBC, Renault UK and many others.

He has moderated and delivered keynotes at events ranging from the NHS Medical Directors’ Conference to the European Retail Real Estate Conference.

From February 2014 to September 2018 Chris was CEO of Sported, the London 2012 legacy charity, serving a UK-wide membership of 3000+ grassroots groups using sport and activity to deliver social outcomes and improve the lives of young people.

He has worked extensively within the high-performance sports system, not least as a lead facilitator on UK Sport’s elite coach programme. As a volunteer, he was deputy chair of International Inspiration, London 2012’s ground-breaking international development programme, and served as a member of the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, Comic Relief’s UK grants committee and the board of the Youth Sport Trust.

Chris has chaired the judging of the BT Sport Industry Awards for a number of years. He joined the Sport England Board on 9 September, 2016 and is currently serving his second three-year term.

Andrew Long

Andy is chief executive of Pentland Brands, a privately owned UK-based business with a portfolio of sports and lifestyle brands including Speedo, Berghaus and Canterbury. In this role his business perspective encompasses sport globally from occasional activity through to elite performance, and across all age groups.

Initially trained as a management accountant, Andy's whole career has been in consumer goods, living and working across different regions of England as well as briefly overseas.

After 25 years playing and volunteering in grassroots rugby, he is now most active in the gym and as a parent volunteer, occasionally indulging his competitive instincts by trying to beat his own personal best at the local park run. Andy joined the Sport England Board on 9 September 2016 and is currently serving his second three-year term.

Karen Pickering

During her 20-year international career, Karen won 35 major championship medals and 38 national titles despite breaking her back in a car accident in 1996. She was four times world champion, broke two world records and competed at four consecutive Olympic Games.

Since her retirement from competitive swimming, Karen has become a popular motivational and after dinner speaker and commentates for BBC 5 Live, BBC TV and Channel 4. In 2013, she founded The Karen Pickering SWIM Foundation, to run alongside her swim schools, offering bursaries to those who might otherwise be unable to afford swimming lessons.

Passionate about giving elite athletes a voice, she was chair of the British Athletes Commission and formerly sat on the executive boards of the English Institute of Sport and the BOA-Athlete Commission. Karen joined the Sport England Board on 28 October 2016 and is currently serving her second three-year term.

Professor Ian Cumming

Ian is Health Education England’s (HEE) first chief executive, a position he has held since 2012. HEE is one of the six arm’s length bodies responsible for the national oversight, regulation and management of the NHS in England.

Ian started his career in the NHS as a healthcare scientist before moving into NHS management in the late 80s. In 1995, he took up his first hospital Trust chief executive post. Since then he has held CEO positions at a Teaching Hospitals group, as an NHS Commissioner and, from 2009-2012, as CEO of the NHS in the West Midlands.

Ian has been awarded honorary degrees by Lancaster, Manchester Metropolitan, Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Universities and Honorary Fellowships by the Royal College of General Practitioners, and the University of Cumbria. He is an Honorary Professor of Healthcare Leadership at Lancaster University Medical School and Visiting Professor of Healthcare Management at the University of Pavia, Italy.

Outside the NHS Ian is a Level 3 swimming coach and deputy head coach at Pershore Swimming Club (voluntary). He is also a qualified sports therapist and is currently completing an MSc in sports and exercise medicine. This year, the Amateur Swimming Association invited Ian to chair its national commission on swimming and health. Ian joined the Sport England Board on 28 October 2016 and is currently serving his second three-year term.

Sue James

Sue has more than 30 years’ experience working in the media industry. She was a senior executive of Time Inc UK for more than 20 years and, until September 2017, was the editorial director of woman&home – the UK’s leading consumer title for women aged 40 or above.

She now runs her own media brand consultancy advising clients from all sectors on strategic brand marketing, content creation and customer engagement.

Sue is a trustee for The National Centre of Circus Arts, the UK’s leading provider of inclusive circus arts education, and an ambassador for Everywoman – a leading women’s business network supporting all women to achieve their potential in business.

Her passion for wellbeing and desire to help all women ‘lead their best life’, led Sue to develop long standing partnerships with some of the UK’s biggest health charities. She joined the Sport England board on 30 April, 2018.

Rashmi Becker

With more than 20 years’ professional experience in communications, policy and disability advocacy, Rashmi has worked in the UK and internationally in a range of fields including sport, healthcare, social care and the arts.

She has worked in press and policy roles in the UK Civil Service at the Department for Education and Employment, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was seconded to both the European Commission and Parliament.

Rashmi has also worked in the charity sector, supporting the UK’s biggest biomedical research funder the, Wellcome Trust, and was a board member for the Activity Alliance – where she helped develop their charter setting out changes to improve disabled people’s participation in sport.

Her work has focused on supporting organisations and initiatives that promote social inclusion and quality of life – she joined the board on 23 July, 2018.

Mohamed Elsarky

A seasoned executive with wide experience in industry, sport, and not-for-profit organisations, Mohamed Elsarky most recently served as global president and CEO of Godiva Chocolatier – where he was also a member of the board – and he currently serves as non-executive director of NOMAD Foods.

Previously, he was operating partner at Lion Capital, a leading private equity firm, president of United Biscuits Northern Europe, CEO of Jacobs Bakery (Danone) UK and Ireland, and chairman/CEO of Kellogg Australia and New Zealand.

Mohamed’s involvement in sport includes major sponsorship of rugby league, netball, and Surf Life Saving Ironman and competitions in Australia – where he was vice patron of Surf Life Saving Queensland.

More recently he was chair of British Canoeing, overseeing improved governance and developing relationships with funding bodies and key stakeholders. Mohamed is currently chair of the British Equestrian Federation – he joined the board on 29 October, 2018.

Tove Okunniwa

The chief executive of London Sport, an Active Partnership dedicated to making London the most active city in the world funded by us and the Mayor of London, Tove has a background in strategic marketing and content creation, with extensive experience in both commercial and non-profit sectors.

Previously, she led two successful sport and entertainment marketing agencies, WPP-owned MEC Access and Havas Sports & Entertainment. Prior to this, Tove spent 10 years at the BBC in senior brand marketing roles, including head of marketing at BBC Sport and during which time she completed an Executive MBA.

Her career started in the arts at the London Symphony Orchestra and the South Bank Centre and she is a long-time trustee of Catch 22, a leading social business. Tove was appointed to our Board on 24 September, 2019, and is serving her first term of three years.

Azeem Akhtar

Currently chief technology officer at BT Global, Azeem engages with multi-national clients at C-Level to articulate BT’s vision for digital transformation to deliver the client’s desired business outcomes.

After graduating from King’s College London in mathematics and business management, he went on to complete a Masters in sea-use law, economics and policy making at the London School of Economics. He began his professional career working in the oil and gas industry, before moving into the telecommunications industry just as the dot.com era was taking off. Azeem has held senior commercial, finance, business development and technology leadership roles to date and has extensive international experience where he has utilised his multi-lingual skills.

A committed sportsman, Azeem plays cricket, football, squash and tennis and is a die-hard Liverpool FC supporter. He currently holds a non-executive director role as chairman of Active Essex and passionately leads the charge against physical inactivity to improve the quality of life for all people, of all ages, in Essex.

Married with three children, in 2016 Azeem was named in the UK’s Top 100 Most Influential BAME business leaders. He was appointed to our Board on 24 September, 2019, and is serving his first term of three years.

David Mahoney

David is currently chief operating officer at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). Prior to this, he oversaw the strategy, insights, HR, integrity and public policy teams as ECB’s Chief Strategy Officer.

Before joining ECB, David held a number of senior roles at Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, including director of policy and chief advisor to its CEO.  He was also seconded into Government in 2009 as a director of the Digital Britain Report, which examined the transformational nature of digital technologies and the policy responses needed as a result.

A qualified lawyer who specialised in competition and media law before joining Ofcom, David is a keen sports fan who enjoys cricket and golf as well as following West Ham United.

He joined the Sport England Board on 28 October, 2019, and is serving his first three-year term.

Executive team

Tim Hollingsworth OBE, Chief Executive

Former chief executive of the British Paralympic Association (BPA), Tim led them into four Paralympic Games including a best-ever Winter Games performance at PyeongChang 2018 – where ParalympicsGB won seven medals, including one gold.

That followed an impressive 147-medal haul at Rio 2016 as his team finished second in the medal table, up from third and 120 medals at London 2012.

Tim has also been at the forefront of the work that has increased the profile and interest of the Paralympic movement, driving the commercial and business growth of the BPA as a charity that challenges perceptions of disability in society.

Before his seven years with the BPA, Tim held the roles of director of policy and communications and chief operating officer at UK Sport.

Prior to that, he had a decade’s worth of experience working in senior corporate communications roles – all of which builds an impressive CV that saw him awarded an OBE in 2017.

Nick Pontefract, Chief Operating Officer

Nick joined Sport England in 2018. He is a former Senior Civil Servant from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport where he worked since 2005.

At DCMS, he held a number of roles, including Head of Arts, Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State, Head of Sport and, most recently, leading the government's work to support Birmingham's successful bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Nick is also a board member of Yorkshire 2019 Ltd, the organising committee for the 2019 UCI Road World Championships, having also been involved in the bid.

Mike Diaper OBE, Executive Director of Children and Young People, Tackling Inactivity

Mike joined Sport England in November 2006 from central government where he worked across the Departments for Education and Skills and for Culture, Media and Sport, leading the PE, School Sport and Club Links strategy.

During his time at Sport England he has created and led a wide range of highly successful programmes and initiatives including:

  • Sportivate which gave 700,000 young people the chance to take up a new sport;
  • The Community Sport Activation Fund investing £40m across 218 projects;
  • 33 Get Healthy Get Active pilots testing new approaches to tackling inactivity;
  • Investment to create Active Colleges and Universities; and
  • 10,000 Satellite Clubs bridging the gap between club and school sport.

Through the strategy, the percentage of schoolchildren doing at least two hours of physical education and sport each week rose from 62% in 2004 to 85% in 2006, exceeding the public service agreement target by 5 percentage points.

He has also helped forge international school links between schools in Manchester and Omsk in Siberia.

While at the Department for Education, Mike also led on the inclusion of children with special needs and established a national network of Parent Partnerships which offered independent advice to parents whose children have special needs.

He was awarded an OBE in the 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to school sport.

Ali Donnelly, Executive Director of Digital, Marketing and Communications

Ali joined Sport England in 2019. She is a former Senior Civil Servant and joined from Downing Street where she was the Prime Minister's Deputy Official Spokesperson and the Head of News. She also worked at HM Treasury, holding positions including Head of News and Head of Strategic Communications.

She's previously worked in sport as Head of Communications at Premiership Rugby club Wasps and has also worked in media and public affairs roles at the BBC and BBC Worldwide.

Ali started her career, after graduating with a degree in politics, as a journalist at the Evening Echo newspaper in Ireland. She is a passionate women's rugby fan and campaigner, and runs the award-winning website Scrumqueens.com. She is also Director of Women's Rugby at her club Teddington and is a member of the RFU’s Rugby Growth Committee.

Charles Johnston, Executive Director of Property

A qualified engineer who also has a Master’s in Business Administration, Charles started at Sport England in 2008 from MDA Consulting where he was Chairman and CEO.

He began his career at Jaguar before joining Sainsbury’s where he helped to develop Homebase stores and the Savacentre Hypermarkets as Project Manager. He progressed to become Director of Construction and Facilities.

He was one of the founders of the Reading Construction Forum and led the team that developed the system of partnering in conjunction with Reading University.

Charles is also a Trustee on London Marathon Charitable Trust and Eastlands Trust Manchester.

Lisa O'Keefe, Executive Director of Insight

Former Scottish rugby international Lisa O’Keefe joined Sport England’s south east office in 2000, having started her career in the Financial Sector. During her time at Sport England she held a variety of roles including Head of Sports Development, Head of Delivery, and Interim Regional Director before moving to Sport England’s national office in 2007 as Head of National Sport. In July 2008, she was appointed Director of Sport responsible for the design and implementation of the National Governing Body of Sport investment.

Following the creation of a new Directorate, Lisa was appointed Director of Insight in 2013.

During her playing career, Lisa won 45 Scotland international rugby caps between 1994 and 2006 and competed in two World Cups, one European championship and numerous Six Nations, and enjoyed great success domestically, winning league and cup titles with Richmond Rugby Club for whom she was Club Captain. 

Chris Perks, Executive Director of Local Delivery

Chris trained as a Physical Education Teacher before studying for a Master’s Degree in Sports Science at Loughborough.

Chris’ teaching career began at Roade Secondary School in Northamptonshire. Alongside teaching he led a project to develop school based sports development initiatives and the full community access to the facilities.

Since joining Sport England, Chris has led work around improving sporting opportunities for young people and the use of sport in achieving social outcomes. For four years Chris was the Strategic Lead for all of Sport England’s work in the East region.

Recently Chris became the Executive Director for Local Delivery at Sport England leading the work of all the local outreach teams.

Chris continues to be actively involved in a variety of sports as a volunteer and participant.

Phil Smith, Executive Director of Sport

As the Director of Sport, Phil has responsibility for several areas of the Sport England business. He has represented Sport England as a Board Director of both the Football Foundation and UK Coaching.

Phil’s team manages long term investments of several hundred millions in various sporting bodies, and giving the subsequent advice to achieve results. The ultimate aims are to grow the number of people regularly engaged in sport, while maximising international and domestic sporting success and helping the sport sector to become more productive, sustainable and responsible.

Within these aims, Phil leads the organisation’s work in talent development and performance, club and workforce development, volunteering and coaching, equality and diversity and improved governance. 

Phil joined Sport England in 2008 from The Football Association, where his professional career started after Euro ‘96 as the General Secretary of the County FA in Manchester.

His football career took him through various roles in the game before becoming The FA’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, responsible for football industry policy in relation to Government in both the UK and international bodies.