by Lee Pinkerton
The work of sports campaigner Rimla Akhtar has been recognised with an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of East London (UEL).
The award was for Ms Akhtar’s 20 years of campaigning for greater sports participation among women and girls from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Speaking to an audience of more than 500 graduates from UEL’s School of Health, Sport and Bioscience at a ceremony at indigo at The 02, Ms Akhtar said, “My intention was always to serve my community to the best of my ability, and that is why I stand here today.”
In 2005, Ms Akhtar became chair of the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation, an organisation that seeks to raise awareness and provide opportunities for women, particularly from minority ethnic communities, to participate in sporting activities that take into consideration religious and cultural sensitivities.
“It’s not about forcing Muslim girls to participate,” explained Ms Akhtar. “It’s about finding what their demands are. When their demands are met, they turn up in droves. It’s about the environment that is provided.”
Ms Akhtar holds a number of prominent positions on sporting governing bodies. She sits on the Inclusion Advisory Board at the Football Association, has given evidence to a parliamentary Women in Sport inquiry, sat on a Challenge Group for the triennial review of the Department for Culture Media and Sport and is a board member of football advocacy group Kick It Out.
In December 2013, she was honoured with a Community Award at The Sunday Times and a Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Award. That year she also received the Football Association Grassroots Hero award presented by HRH Prince William. In 2015, she was appointed an MBE for services to equality and diversity to sport.
In 2015, Ms Akhtar set up her own business, Rimjhim Consulting, which works with the sports industry and business sector to increase opportunities for women of diverse backgrounds.
She said, “There is still a lot of work to be done around inclusion in sport and around equality of opportunity, from the grass roots through to the elites. I want to use the power of sport to benefit the whole of society, not just sports people.”