After having served as Chair for over 13 years and set the MWSF well on the visionary path that she aimed, we can today announce that Rimla Akhtar MBE is to leave her position as Chair of the MWSF at the end of 2018. We are extremely grateful to Rimla for all she has achieved and she leaves a solid foundation for her successor, who we can announce is Sahiba Majeed.
Rimla first joined the MWSF as a player in the British Muslim Women’s Futsal team, competing at both the 2001 and 2005 Women’s Islamic Games, the latter of which was where Rimla captained the team. Having captained her country, she turned to dedicating her time to voluntarily oversee the operations of the MWSF, including designing, setting and then delivering successive grassroots strategies.
During her tenure, she has helped the MWSF grow from a small charity receiving income of £3k a year to single-handedly obtaining almost £500k in income for our work. Under her leadership, she has created a professional culture of high performance and quality which has led, directly and indirectly, to an exponential rise in the representation and visibility of Muslim women in sport across the UK. The MWSF is now the home of Muslim women in sport in the UK and sets the standards as well as drives the industry in this space.
In addition to her continuous advisory work for various sports, Rimla has overseen the delivery of a number of ground-breaking initiatives – from the five-year Born to Succeed project developing coaches, referees, players, volunteers and fans from the Muslim female population, to the world’s first ever Awards ceremony recognising the achievements of Muslim women in sport held at the world-renowned Wembley Stadium; from holding the first ever female only leagues and tournaments in the UK, setting up clubs across the country and being the first organisation to research barriers to participation amongst Muslim women in sport, to holding ground-breaking events like the Muslim women in sport panel at the London 2012 Olympics.
In addition to working to develop the MWSF’s impact in the UK, Rimla has had significant impact internationally, not least in challenging exclusionary clothing laws in various sports. In 2007, she began campaigning both at The FA and FIFA levels to overturn the hijab ban, an aim which was achieved in 2014, and supported HRH Prince Ali’s presentation to IFAB in making this happen. In 2014, she campaigned behind the scenes once more to help overturn the ban on the hijab at FIBA, which was achieved in 2017 with the collective efforts of campaigners across the globe, and she has single-handedly and successfully worked on overturning the burqini ban in amateur swimming in England just last year.
Rimla developed and oversaw such visionary and innovative projects that resulted in continuous recognitions and awards. We’ve been recognised by HRH Prince Charles at the ‘Mosaic Awards’, won the ‘Award for Excellence in Sport’ at the Muslim News and the ‘Beyond London 2012 Award’ for Inclusion and Diversity, and were recognised at the Asian Women of Achievement Awards. Rimla leaves a legacy of a charity that is strong, well-respected and ready for its progression to the next level.
“When I accepted the role of Chair at the MWSF, I was tasked with instilling a professional structure that effectively and successfully delivered on improving participation levels amongst Muslim women throughout sport, as well as growing our financial base,” explained Rimla.
“Having lived the experiences of being a Muslim woman in sport, I also took on the role with the strong belief that these experiences could and must improve so that new generations of Muslim women in sport would be developed, one after the other, each pushing standards to the next level so that sport truly becomes the proverbial level playing field it promises so often.
“I had a vision of what I wanted us to achieve – to help grow our work and impact and to see a step change in the representation of Muslim women in sport. I believe we have done that. We now see Muslim women throughout sport in the UK – as players, coaches, referees, volunteers, administrators, journalists, fans. We’re here and we’re here not just to stay, but to grow. These dynamic women have worked hard to get to where they are today and I believe that we’ve done our bit to open doors that were for so long firmly closed in the faces of women like us. We’ve done our bit to get the sports industry ready to receive these women with all their talents. There’s still so so much more to be done, but it’s time for another fresh-faced young Muslim woman to grow in her own way whilst taking the MWSF, undoubtedly, to the next level.
“I leave feeling so proud of the successes so far and I know that the new Chair will be able to build on this with her own style, energy and already significant experiences. I am certain that she will ensure that this role continues to be one of integrity, commitment, energy and passion and that she will deliver the charity’s objectives with principled and compassionate leadership. I wish her all the best in this significant stage of her journey in sport, a stage that I found myself in some 13 years ago.
“Chairing the MWSF has been a huge honour and a privilege, but I have only been able to achieve what I have thanks to the dedication of everyone who has been a part of the journey with me. I cannot thank every single individual enough – fellow trustees, volunteers, supporters, funders, staff, participants and, most importantly, my family.
“Sport plays a massive role in developing our communities for the better. The MWSF will continue to do its bit to contribute to this movement.”
Rimla has also been unrelenting in her commitment to the drive for greater inclusivity and representation. As a result of her leadership in this space, we are able to now commit to a new four-year strategy to double participation amongst Muslim women and girls by 2022. As part of this strategy, the MWSF will increase Muslim female role models and ambassadors through our refreshed and relaunched British Muslim Women’s teams, as well as produce quality actionable insight and develop a digital engagement strategy to take our reach even further.
The woman who will be leading this new strategy is Sahiba Majeed, a graduate in Physical Education from Leeds Beckett University, former assistant PE teacher and an experienced international development worker using sport as a tool for development.
“I am honoured to be the new Chair of the MWSF. Muslim women still face barriers in sport that unfortunately many have experienced, including myself. We must educate society on the barriers and challenge the perception of Muslim women by continuing to develop them through sport, so that current and future generations are equally represented within the industry. I aim to become and create more role models for Muslim women in sport through creating new initiatives and delivering new opportunities.”