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Board and executive team


Our Board bring experience from across the entire sport and physical activity sector.

Their diverse range of viewpoints help them to oversee the work we do and our strategic direction, as well as approving major funding decisions.

The Board is appointed by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and, in accordance with the Royal Charter, consists of a Chair, a Vice Chair and no more than 10 other members.

Chris Boardman

Chair of Sport England

An Olympic champion, world record holder and three-time Tour de France stage winner, Chris was appointed as Greater Manchester’s first ever Cycling and Walking Commissioner in July 2017 by Mayor Andy Burnham.

His report, Made to Move, published in December 2017, set out a 15-step plan to transform how people get around in the city region. The plan has evolved into a £1.5 billion plan to create a world-class cycling and walking network with the first 100 miles of high-quality routes now being created.

In May 2021, Chris was appointed in an expanded role as Greater Manchester’s first ever Transport Commissioner, tasked with accelerating the delivery of the Bee Network – a fully integrated, city region-wide transport system.

He is one of the UK’s most prominent cycling and walking advocates and has been policy adviser to British Cycling since 2012.  

Chris launched his own range of bikes, BOARDMAN Bikes, in 2007 and is company chairman. He also worked as head of research and development for the Great Britain Cycling Team from 2004 to 2012, including at the 2008 Beijing Games where the Olympic team won eight gold medals. 

He was appointed Chair of Sport England in July 2021.

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Natalie Ceeney


Natalie joined the Sport England board in June 2018, adding to her other non-executive director roles at Countrywide PLC, Anglian Water and Ford Credit Europe, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Professor Ian Cumming

Ian started his career in the NHS as a healthcare scientist, working in the field of hereditary coagulation disorders, before moving into NHS management roles from 1990.

Since then, he’s held a variety of NHS general management posts including more than 11 years as chief executive of acute hospital trusts, three years as the chief executive of a healthcare commissioning organisation and three years as the chief executive of the NHS in the West Midlands.

From 2012 to 2020, Ian was chief executive of Health Education England (HEE), the largest education and training organisation in the world, responsible for the education, training and development of the current and future NHS workforce.

In addition to his Board role for us, Ian is a professor of global healthcare workforce and strategy at Keele University, is the UK‘s lead for Health in the Overseas Territories, and the NHS’ global workforce ambassador. He has personal interests in both pre-hospital care and sports medicine – an area in which he holds an MSc.

In 2003 Ian was awarded the OBE for services to the NHS and in 2010 he was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Ian has also been recognised with honorary degrees from five universities.

Ian is also a qualified level 3 swimming coach, a keen snow skier and enjoys sailing and hill walking. He joined the Sport England Board on 28 October 2016 and is currently serving his second three-year term.

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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's worked in press and policy roles in the UK Civil Service at the Departments for Education and Employment, the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and was seconded to both the European Commission and Parliament.

Rashmi has also worked in the charity sector, supporting the UK’s largest research funder, the Wellcome Trust, and was a board member of the Activity Alliance – where she helped develop their charter setting out changes to improve disabled people’s participation in sport. She's also the founder of Step Change Studios, which support disabled people to be active through dance.

Her work has focused on supporting organisations and initiatives that promote social inclusion and quality of life. Rashmi has a PhD in psychiatry from the University of Cambridge and joined the board on 23 July, 2018.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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Executive team

Our Executive team comprises of six Executive Directors, in addition to our Chief Operating Officer, and they’re overseen by our Chief Executive.

They’re responsible for the day-to-day implementation of our strategy and advocating for sport and physical activity.

Tim Hollingsworth OBE

Chief Executive of Sport England

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 She is also Director of Women's Rugby at her club Teddington and is a member of the RFU’s Rugby Growth Committee.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Please get in touch with us if you require minutes or agendas from Board meetings prior to 2018.

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