Combatting Inequalities in Sport – 3 Indomitable Women!

Ebony Rainford-Brent

Ebony Rainford-Brent has made sporting history numerous times, becoming the first Black woman to play for the England Women’s Cricket Team and captain the Surrey Women’s team.

Since retiring, Ebony has continued with an amazing career, becoming the first Director of Women’s Cricket at Surrey County Cricket Club, a pundit and broadcaster for the BBC radio programme, Test Match Special, as well as one of the few female cricket commentators alongside the likes of Isa Guha to commentate on men’s international cricket matches.

Ebony played a crucial part in one of the most successful England Women’s teams of all time that won the 9th ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in Sydney 2009. Following their World Cup success, the team went on to win the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 and the NatWest One-Day series, and it retained the Ashes.

As part of the Sky Sports Black Cricketers Matter programme, Ebony reflected on her experience in Cricket. It was only when she made her mark in the Cricket world that she was subjected to derogatory and racist remarks.

She says: “I grew up in a very multicultural, diverse London with all sorts of colours – a melting pot. [But] I noticed as soon as I walked into the world of cricket that comments started. I had comments about where I grew up and how the fact that I had a long name meant maybe my mum didn’t know who my dad was. About my hair, body parts, especially the derriere, shall we say.”

Whilst Ebony proudly reflects on becoming the first black woman to play for England, she says it was still challenging due to being the only Black person: “For it to hit me that I was the first [black woman to play for England], I felt a mixture of emotions. Proud on one hand but also a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable.

It took me a long time to really feel comfortable owning that because I wanted there to be more, I didn’t want to be the only one. It’s something I still feel a little bit plagued by now’.

Ebony has called on all sport governing bodies, not only those in Cricket, to address the ‘structural problems’ in Sport and lack of minority-ethnic decision-makers, saying: “In our world of sport, people say there aren’t any inequalities but you start to look around at people in positions of power. Statistics have come out that there are almost zero black people in any boards in our governing bodies. What does that say?”

Ebony herself has gone onto great things to combat these inequalities at a Grassroots Level, founding Surrey’s African Caribbean Engagement Programme to encourage more 11-18 year old boys and girls into the club’s various youth programmes.

Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE

Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE is the first Muslim woman to sit on the FA (Football Association) Council, and is Chair of the Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation. This Foundationaims to raise awareness and provide opportunities for women, particularly from minority-ethnic communities, to participate in a variety of sporting activities including Football and Cricket, taking into consideration religious and cultural differences and sensitivities.

Rimla’s most prominent work to date was working as an Inclusion and Diversity Specialist in Sport where her outstanding contributions led to her being ranked 15th in the 2015 list of The Independent’s Most Influential Women in Sport. Rimla has demonstrated an outstanding level of commitment with 17 years of experience in the sports industry across the world, including the United Kingdom, Middle East and Asia. Rimla’s accolades don’t stop there as she was awarded two honorary doctorates in 2017and the Sky Sports and Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Community Award in 2013.

Rimla shares the positive news of the FA creating more minority-ethnic representations and role models saying: “The FA have pledged to create more Muslim and BAME role models from both sexes and progress is certainly being made. There are probably as many as there have ever been, but more can always be done.” Rimla also sends a timely reminder to us all that there is still much work to do adding: “But we must also strive to ensure the industry provides an environment that doesn’t discriminate either structurally or overtly”.

Rimla has an important message of what the representation of minority-ethnic role models at the elite level of sport can do for the youth of tomorrow: “Whether you watch a Mo at your local five-a-side centre, Mo playing for Liverpool or maybe even a Maryam perhaps one day playing for England, you’ll see they express themselves beautifully at all levels of the game”.

Lungi Macebo

Lungi Macebo

Lungi Macebo is currently Birmingham City Football Club’s COO (Chief Operating Officer) where her responsibilities include supporting the board of directors and senior management. Lungi is also a board member for Women in Football and was previously head of HR at Charlton Athletic before her move to Birmingham.

Lungi’s excellence in planning, organising, and delivering new initiatives hasn’t gone unnoticed. She won the administration award at the prestigious Football Black List celebration just before Christmas last year.

Despite the huge strides made by Lungi, she has revealed that she wasn’t always made to feel welcome saying “I do stick out. Going to a game for a black woman is rare. I would give my name at reception in terms of picking tickets up. It was often assumed that you were a player’s partner, not a black woman representing a club (Charlton at the time) and heading to the boardroom”.

Lungi paints a realistic picture about increasing the level of diversity in Football stating that work needs to be done on welcoming the current supporters before encouraging minority-ethnic people in the local area to attend stating “If a white man is intimidated by coming here, what chance do other people stand? If I’m completely honest, we don’t have a real strategy in terms of getting a more diverse crowd. We need to work on the current supporters that we have. How welcoming are we to families, women, etc, before we move on to minorities?”

While Macebo says her self-belief and motivation has not been driven by injustice, she does hope that improvements and work is done so more people like her can reach the top adding “In terms of gender equality in the boardroom it is certainly changing. It’s not fast enough, but there are definitely changes. Then when you bring race into it, it becomes harder. I definitely think football has a long way to go in terms of inclusion and diversity”.