The 50 most influential women in sport: The full list

This has been a brilliant year for female influence on British sport, so it’s a good time to celebrate - Sue Mott introduces our first annual power list

Women’s power and influence over sport has been pretty minimal until, say, now. In previous centuries they gave birth to famous sportsmen and Queen Elizabeth I may have somehow nudged Sir Francis Drake into bowls. Other than that, their position was somewhat sidelined.

Women could play sport, amass trophies, even be admitted to the hallowed Long Room at Lords by 1999, but it is now, in the 21st century – with a female Sports Minister looking like she means business, women running football clubs, and the Lionesses generating a fascinated following – that we can truly sense the tide turning.

A number of factors have converged to make this particular moment in British sporting history significant and it’s hard to know which came first. It could be the England women’s rugby, cricket and football teams largely professionalising with a resulting outpouring of success. Or the visible increase in commercial backing arriving from previously sceptical businesses now run or influenced by undaunted women. Or higher-profile media coverage no longer so dependent on a babe not wearing much. Or the turbo-charged push from social media. Pick the starting point out of that lot.

Undoubtedly, businesses small and large have identified the commitment and accessibility of women’s sport as an uplifting commodity in which to invest. When David Beckham tweeted to the Lionesses as they won their way through to this year’s World Cup semi-final: “Girls what a performance. We are so proud of what you have achieved and the passion you have shown …” he spoke for a nation enthralled.

The England women's football team came third at the 2015 World Cup in Canada

And it’s cheaper. Investing in women’s sport has been estimated as 30 times less expensive than backing the more high-profile men’s division. Whatever Helen Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management, paid to sponsor the Women’s Boat Race it returned dividends in attention and feel-good factor far exceeding its price.

But the boom goes way beyond the  accountants’ spreadsheets. The performance power of multi-tasking women is being  increasingly valued in boardrooms. Their consumer power is increasingly recognised. It is not just women’s sport that is proffering opportunities, but male domains too. All bar the men’s locker room. And even there, Eva Carneiro, the Chelsea First Team doctor, is probably allowed in with her sponge.

Essentially, the rise of women’s influence in sport is about confidence. All areas of sporting life from players, administrators, lawyers, agents to politicians, campaigners, designers, sportswriters and broadcasters, once the  uncompromising fiefdom of masculinity, have boldly opened up to “going woman” ... some voluntarily, some not so much.

The Independent on Sunday’s first 50 Most Influential Women in Sport list is a sign of the emancipation. As is the mutual support that exists between them and like-minded men happy to foster the advancement. So, Barbara Slater, head of BBC sport, and responsible for seminal decisions this year to broadcast the Women’s Boat Race and the Women’s World Cup, vindicated Morrissey’s commercial investment and persuaded Clare Balding to give up commentary on the Grand National and be part of history on the Thames instead.

There are still barriers, certainly on the international stage. The chances of a woman becoming President of Fifa, Uefa, the IAAF or the IOC are currently nil. Some might say this partly accounts for the past and present mayhem at those bodies. But British institutions are warming to the female theme. There is less acceptance of women taking up merely decorative positions. They are forging alliances, doing key deals and, in Jess Ennis-Hill’s case, looking after one-year-old Reggie with her husband while preparing for the heptathlon at the World Championships.

She’s a mum. She’s got abs. No wonder it feels like a new dawn.

The full list


Barbara Slater

BBC Director of Sport

Slater is responsible for 20,000 hours of global sports coverage across radio, TV and online each year. She orchestrated the BBC’s entire coverage of London 2012 – and has been instrumental in getting women’s sport more attention, including this summer’s Lionesses.

BBC Director of Sport Barbara Slater


Tracey Crouch

Minister for Sport

At last, a Sports Minister who lives and breathes sport. Crouch is a big supporter of women’s sport and women in sport. Her decision to rip up and start again on the sports participation strategy is admirable. The MP, who is also a qualified FA coach and an ex-footballer herself, managed a girl’s team in her constituency, Chatham and Aylesford, where she was elected in 2010. Crouch is only the third woman to be Sports Minister. Last week, she launched a consultation to develop a new strategy for sport. How effective she is in the role is not clear yet, but there are high hopes that someone with her drive and insight can do great things at grass-roots and elite levels.

Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch


Clare Balding



The jockey, who turned sports broadcaster and became a household name, now uses her fame to bring a campaigning edge to her broadcasting. She has reported on five Olympics, two Paralympics and three Winter Olympic Games. This year, she turned down presenting the Grand National in favour of the Boat Race, because the women’s event was being televised for the first time. Balding has said in Parliament that women having freedom to play sport leads directly to women having political freedom; her BT Sport chat show is famous for its representation of female athletes alongside their male counterparts on the sofa.

Sports broadcaster Claire Balding


Steph Houghton

Captain of England and Manchester City FC

Houghton led England to third place at the Women’s World Cup last month – the best performance in their history – and became a national hero in the process. She first came to national attention in 2012 when she scored three goals in four games for Great Britain at the London Olympics. She has 58 caps to her name, plays for an integrated men’s and women’s football club, MCWFC, and is a treasured example for young girls .

England captain Steph Houghton


Jessica Ennis-Hill

Athlete and Olympic Heptathlon Champion

Ennis-Hill is the current Olympic champion and British record-holder in the heptathlon and has qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, less than a year after giving birth to her son Reggie. She’s a highly visible, likeable and inspiring role model – and she took a principled stand when her local football club, Sheffield United, was considering  re-hiring convicted rapist Ched Evans on his release from prison. Her first political statement, it was hugely brave and proved a turning point in the controversy.

Olympic gold winning Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill


Clare Connor

Director of Women’s Cricket at the ECB

Ms Connor finished her six-year reign as England captain in 2005 by leading her team to the first Ashes victory in 42 years. She became head of England cricket in 2008, and is probably the most talented, driven, sensible, strategic, upbeat, no-nonsense sports administrator around. She’s taken women’s cricket from nowhere to a professional sport with £40,000 contracts. She recently announced the launch of a domestic six-team Women’s Cricket Super League in 2016. She shows other sports what they can do to transform a governing body.

Clare Connor, director of women's cricket at the ECB


Helena Morrissey

Founder of the  30  Per Cent Club

This campaigner for more women in boardrooms, is a Cambridge graduate and mother of nine who transformed the Boat Race this year. As CEO of Newton Investment Management, her sponsorship blueprint for women’s sport is revolutionary: “You need a vision not a spreadsheet.” She was instrumental in moving the women’s race on to the same course on the same day as the men and 4.8 million watched the live BBC coverage. She has created a template for the future for corporates and women’s sport.


Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30 Per Cent Club


Jacqui Oatley



The first female commentator on the BBC’s Match of the Day. For many years now, Oatley has been the face of women’s football on the BBC. She has taken up a new position with ITV, fronting their football coverage for this season. A campaigner for the women’s game, she tweets about where to buy tickets, the pricing structure, and so forth, and insiders praise her influence, behind the scenes, to galvanise greater television and radio coverage. She is also on the Women in Football board.

BBC sports broadcaster Jacqui Oatley


Heather Rabbatts

Former director of the Football Association

Rabbatts became a director of the FA in 2011, the only woman its board and the first person of colour. Many saw her as a tickbox appointment – they’d clearly never met her. Her outrage over the all-white FA commission to improve the national team was brave and did her no political favours. More recently, she quit Fifa’s anti-discrimination taskforce after Sepp Blatter’s re-election. Her leadership credentials are not limited to sport, but sport needs more people like her. She’s a long-time supporter of Women in Football, and chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board.

Former Director the Football Association Heather Rabatts


Judy Murray

Tennis coach

Murray was originally typecast as “the mum” by the media, but she has proved she is a powerful force in her own right. She is a campaigner for women’s and girls’ sport, a committed grass-roots tennis coach, captain of the British women’s Federation Cup team, and a terrible dancer. She surely contributed to one of the most note-worthy sports moments of 2015: when Andy Murray declared himself a feminist.

Captain of the British Women's Federation Cup team coach Judy Murray


Delia Bushell

BT’s managing director  of TV and sport

Formerly at BSkyB, Bushell took over her role last year and is charged with continuing BT Sport’s expansion – including Uefa Champions League coverage and the launch of BT Sport Ultra HD. A champion of Action Woman of the Year Awards which celebrates the top 10 performances by British athletes.

Delia Bushell, BT's managing director TV and Sport


Charlotte Edwards

Captain of the England women’s cricket team

In her 18-year career as a batswoman, Edwards scored more one-day runs (8,027) than any English player, male or female, and has led the England women’s cricket team to enormous success. This year, Edwards was named ECB Cricketer of the Year. She epitomises good leadership.

Charlotte Edwards, Captain of the England women’s cricket team


Liz Ellen

Head of Sport,  Mishcon de Reya

Ellen is the impressive young partner at this top-flight law firm. She led a case against former manager Malky Mackay on behalf of Cardiff City FC’s owner. The go-to lawyer for many top players. She’s on the board of Women in Football, and she facilitates pro bono advice for women facing discrimination.

Liz Ellen, Head of Sport at law firm Mishcon de Reya


Kelly Simmons

FA Director for National and Women’s Game

Simmons oversees women’s football and FA policy nationwide. She strives to implement “better coaches and facilities” at the grass-roots and the recent success of the England women’s team has been helped greatly by her bringing the Women’s FA Cup Final to Wembley Stadium.

Kelly Simmons, FA Head of the National Game


Rimla Akhtar

Member of the  FA Council

A passionate player, and a supporter of Liverpool FC. In 2014, Akhtar became the first Muslim woman on the FA Council, an institution which even its own chairman, Greg Dyke, described as “overwhelmingly male and white”. She also chairs the Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation.

Rimla Akhtar, member of the FA council


Gabby Logan

Sports presenter

Having retired as a gymnast at 17, Logan took up sports presenting, joining Sky in 1996 then ITV and the BBC. Consistently brilliant, she presents FA Cup and Champions League fixtures, deputises for Gary Lineker as Match of the Day anchor and co-presents the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Sports presenter Gabby Logan


Marieanne Spacey

Former footballer  turned coach

Spacey paved the way for the success of the current pride of Lionesses, as well as being an assistant coach to the team during the World Cup in Canada. Considered one of England’s greatest players, the attacking midfielder was a former Arsenal and Fulham player and made 91 appearances for England.

Assistant coach to the England women's football team Marieanne Spacey


Margaret Byrne

CEO, Sunderland FC

Having worked as legal director and secretary at Sunderland FC from 2007, Byrne was appointed CEO in 2011. Currently the only female chief exec in the Premier League, she is an example to others such as Katrien Meire, CEO at Charlton Athletic. Byrne is one of six women on the FA Council.

CEO of Sunderland FC, Margaret Byrne


Kate Richardson-Walsh

Women’s hockey captain

The British and English women’s hockey captain led her team to a bronze medal at London 2012 – despite a broken jaw. She is a patron of the Women’s Sport Trust, and is on the Athletes’ Commission for the European Olympic Committees. Works with Ernst & Young to push the female athletes’ agenda.

Kate Richardson-Walsh, captain of the England women's hockey team


Eniola Aluko

Chelsea Ladies and England footballer

Nigerian-born Aluko, a qualified lawyer, is one of the best-known faces in women's football. She was Player of the Match in this year's Women's FA Cup Final. Shea has spoken out against racist attitudes in the men's game and fought behind the scenes for better pay for England's women players.

England and Chelsea FC footballer Eniola Aluko


Nicola Adams

Olympic boxing champion

Adams is a British boxer and the first woman to win an Olympic gold in the sport when she won the flyweight division and became a poster girl for London 2012. She is now also the Commonwealth and European champ. Named most influential LGBT figure in The IoS 2012 Rainbow List.

Boxer Nicola Adams


Anna Kessel

Sports journalist, founder of Women in Football

Praised for her excellent writing across many sport disciplines, Kessel is also chair and co-founder of the Women in Football organisation, which works to improve the experience and representation of women at every level of the game. She is a fearless adversary of sexism.

Sports journalist Anna Kessel


Rachel Atherton

Racing cyclist

A professional downhill mountain-biker and two-time world champion, Atherton is at the forefront of the sport alongside brothers Dan and Gee. A multiple World Cup winner and BT Sport’s Action Woman in 2013, Atherton is funny, cool and has a strong social media following too.

Racing cyclist Rachel Atherton


Alison Kervin

Sports Editor,  The Mail on Sunday

Kervin is currently the only woman sports editor of a national newspaper. She previously worked as the editor of Rugby World and as The Times’ chief sports feature writer. Sports figures credit her with bringing inclusivity to the pages of a paper that previously had a narrow agenda.

Alison Kervin, Sports Editor of The Mail on Sunday


Baroness Brady

Football management

“The First Lady of Football” who believed it was “not that difficult” to run a football club twice as well as a man. As MD at Birmingham City and current vice-chair at West Ham, Brady has earned a place in the House of Lords and is also the first female director of a top-flight football club.

Baroness Brady, MD of Birmingham City FC and vice-chair at West Ham


Karen Earl

Ex chair/founder of  Synergy Sponsorship

In her role as head of Synergy, Earl set up one of the first agencies dedicated to the marketing side of the sports industry. She has been a hugely innovative figure and now chairs the European Sponsorship Association which seeks to educate marketeers, and she also works in mentoring.

Karen Earl, founder of Synergy


Emma Hayes

Football coach

A former head coach of the Chicago Red Stars football team, Hayes took over at Chelsea Ladies in 2012 and this month led them to their first major trophy, the Women’s FA Cup. A rare woman in the dugout, she has called for affirmative action to help female coaches challenge the status quo.

Chelsea coach Emma Hayes


Sally Bolton

MD, London 2017 World Championship Athletics

After 19 years in rugby league, the charismatic Bolton was appointed by the International Association of Athletics Federations last year as managing director of the London 2017 World Championships. She was an effective projects and planning director for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

Sally Bolton, MD of London 2017 World Championship Athletics


Claudia Fragapane

Artistic gymnast

One of Britain’s most exciting  gymnastic talents, Fragapane was named BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2014. She won four golds at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Englishwoman to do that since swimmer Joyce Cooper 85 years ago.

Gymnast Claudia Fragapane


Susie Wolff

Racing driver

The Scot who came up through karting to become a Williams test driver, was the first woman to take part in a Formula One weekend in 22 years, driving in a free practice at the 2014 British GP and was given a fellowship at Edinburgh University as “an ambassador for women in sport”.

Williams test driver Susie Wolff


Helen Chamberlain

Presenter, ‘Soccer AM’

A former holiday-camp entertainer and disc jockey, Chamberlain was scouted by Nickelodeon TV and has presented the Sky Sports football show Soccer AM since 1995. Also a darts and poker player, she is admired by football fans for her love and knowledge of the game.


Lizzy Yarnold

Skeleton racer

Yarnold made sporting history by winning every major title in her sport in 407 days. She is the Olympic, world and European champion, and won the overall World Cup title in 2014. A former heptathlete, she uses her platform as an Olympian to challenge “the media image of the perfect woman”.

Lizzy Yarnold celebrates World Championship gold in the skeleton


Martine Wright

Sitting volleyball player

Wright, who lost both legs in the 7/7 London bombings, made headlines at London 2012 in the sitting volleyball at the Paralympics. An ambassador for disabled sport, she is testament to sport’s power to transform lives. Insiders say she is formidable, unbreakable, hilarious, charismatic.

Martine Wright lost both of her legs in the July 7 London bombings, which killed 52 people and injured more than 770


Julie Harrington

Managing director of  St George’s Park

Previously the operations director at Northern Racing, Harrington manages the English Football Association’s  330-acre Staffordshire site and oversees more than 350 staff at the elite facility, which is regularly used by England teams. Seen across sport as hugely experienced and influential.


Laura Trott


A track and road cyclist specialising in both the team pursuit and omnium disciplines, Trott is the Olympic and European champion in both events. She is the most successful rider in the history of the European Track Championships. Young, dynamic and a great communicator.

Laura Trott triumphs in the Commonwealth women’s 25km points race


Sally Hancock

Chair of Women in Sport

As director of Olympic and Paralympic marketing at Lloyds, Hancock helped  to secure the first national sponsor partnership for London 2012. She was  head of Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games and instrumental in energy firm SSE’s investment in England women’s football.


Stella McCartney

Fashion designer

When McCartney was appointed Team GB’s creative director for 2012 it was the first time a fashion designer had produced the team apparel for both the Olympics and Paralympics. The outcome was praised for introducing style into sportswear. She is creative director for Team GB’s kit for Rio 2016.

JK Rowling and Stella McCartney


Hannah Cockroft

Wheelchair racer and sports management consultant

World-record holder in 100m and 200m T34 wheelchair racing. Cockroft won two gold medals and set two Paralympic records at London 2012. Born with cerebral palsy, she is a brilliant communicator and has now set up her own sports management consultancy, 17 Sports.

Hannah Cockroft


Jo Pavey

Long-distance runner

As she says, disarmingly: “I’m known for being old.” In fact, she is known for setting the record in 2014 as the oldest female European champion in history, inspiringly winning her gold medal in the 10,000m at the age of 40. She has represented Great Britain in every Olympic Games since 2000.

Track Athlete Jo Pavey


Joyce Cook

Disabled rights advocate

In 2009, Cook was shortlisted for a People of the Year Award by the Royal Association for Disability Rights to acknowledge her commitment to inclusion of disabled supporters in football stadiums. Appointed OBE for her work and although disabled herself, she goes to games across Europe.

Joyce Cook (left)


Casey Stoney

Captain of the England women’s football team

A defender for Arsenal Ladies, Stoney has been a key part of the national team since the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China. She captained Team GB in the London Olympics, and the next year became the first woman on the Professional Footballers’ Association’s management committee.

Casey Stoney pictured representing Team GB at London 2012


Davina McCall

Television presenter

She influences many British women to get fit via her myriad exercise DVDs. In February 2014, she completed a gruelling seven-day running, swimming and cycling marathon for Sport Relief. She covered 500 miles from Edinburgh to London, raised a lot of money, and inspired thousands.

Davina McCall


Sarah Outen

Sailor and adventurer

In 2009, Outen became the first woman and the youngest person (at 23) to row solo across the Indian Ocean. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an MBE, she set out in 2011 on a daunting solo loop of the world. She is due to arrive back in Britain in October.

Sarah Outen celebrating her arrival at Adak, Alaska


Tracey Neville

Head coach of the  England netball team

Tracey Neville is praised as the most innovative coach in netball – and is dedicated to raising its profile. In 2008, a serious knee injury forced her to retire from the game but in her new management role she is vying to lead the England team to victory at the Netball World Cup in Sydney.

Tracey Neville


Jordanne Whiley

Paralympic tennis player

Paralympic bronze medallist and six times Grand Slam champion in the women’s wheelchair doubles with her Japanese partner Yui Kamiji. Whiley was the only British victor at Wimbledon 2015 and has been an important figurehead in the growing popularity of wheelchair tennis.

Great Britain’s Jordanne Whiley, right, celebrates retaining the women’s wheelchair doubles title with Yui Kamiji, of Japan


Shelley Alexander

BBC editorial lead for women’s sport

Previously editor of Football Focus and also Sports News Editor at Radio 5 Live, Alexander is particularly known for mentoring young talent. She is a member of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, the Premier League/PFA Community Fund and chair of Kick It Out’s Mentoring Committee.


Ruth Holdaway

CEO, Women in Sport

As the chief executive of the charity that receives funding by Sport England, formerly the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, Holdaway was among the drivers of the “This Girl Can” campaign, which seeks to break down the “significant barriers” that women face in sport and physical activity.


Eva Carneiro

Assistant medical  director for Chelsea

Known in the sports world as “the busiest doctor in football”, Dr Carneiro is a rare woman in the support crews to Premier League football. She was on the receiving end of sexist chants by fans earlier this year, an episode that sparked industry-wide calls to end everyday sexism in football.

Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro (centre)


Sarah Storey

Cyclist and former swimmer

After a very successful decade as a Paralympic swimmer, Storey switched to cycling in 2005, collecting gold medals and setting world records. With 11 gold medals, Storey is among the most successful British Paralympians of all time and was appointed a DBE after 2012.

Cyclist Sarah Storey


Katy McLean

Captain of the England Women rugby team

The leader of the team that won the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2014. She gave a well-received speech when her side won the BBC Sports Personality Team Award. Now professional, she has given up primary school teaching to concentrate on the Rugby Sevens tournament in Rio.

England women’s rugby captain Katy Mclean

Grandes dames who have led the way

Baroness Campbell

Chair of the Youth Sport Trust

Another former netball international, who began her career as a sports teacher, Sue Campbell chaired UK Sport from 2003 to 2013. Her inspirational approach and influence were recognised in 2013 when she was named as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the UK by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Baroness Sue Campbell

Baroness  Grey-Thompson

Paralympic short- and long-distance athlete

Holder of an incredible 16 Paralympic medals, 30 world records and winner of the London Wheelchair Marathon six times in a career that spanned two decades. Now in the Lords, Tanni Grey-Thompson is a highly regarded and effective campaigner. A hugely popular force for good in both disabled and able-bodied sport.

Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (Getty)

Baroness Heyhoe Flint

England cricketer

Rachael Heyhoe Flint was the England women’s cricket captain between 1966 and 1978. As captain, she was unbeaten in six Test series and led her team to victory in the inaugural Women’s Cricket World Cup in England in 1973. She has been a huge influence upon today’s successful women cricketers. In 2004, she became the first woman elected to the full committee of Marylebone Cricket Club and, in 2010, she was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame, the first woman awarded this accolade.

Rachael Heyhoe Flint: The former cricket star, now a member of the House of Lords

Debbie Jevans

London 2012 director of sport

A former tennis player, Jevans was director of sport for both the Olympic and Paralympic London Games – the first woman to hold such a post. She has been a key figure in the push to make sure that the board of every sports governing body has 25 per cent female representation by 2017. Jevans was chief executive of England Rugby 2015, the organising committee for the Rugby World Cup, before stepping down in March.

Debbie Jevans, London 2012 Director of Sport

Dame Ellen MacArthur


Ellen MacArthur held the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe between 2005 to 2008. Since retiring from competitive sailing, she has set up her own charities, one of which works to connect business and the education sector, while the other takes young people with serious illnesses sailing in order to help them regain confidence as they recover.

Dame MacArthur

Liz Nicholl

Chief executive of UK Sport

A former netball international, Nicholl oversaw three successful Olympic campaigns in Sydney, Athens and Beijing after being appointed to UK Sport in 1999 as the head of its Performance Directorate. She became CEO in 2010 and is now considered one of the most powerful women in British sport, in charge of a huge budget and decision-making at elite level. Her ability to match the right athletes with the right sports has led Team GB to its most successful Olympics and Paralympics ever, winning 65 and 120 medals respectively.

Chief Executive of UK Sport, Liz Nicholl

Eleanor Oldroyd

Sports broadcaster

Oldroyd joined the BBC in 1986 as a sports producer for BBC Radio Shropshire, before moving on to 5 Live. Her entertaining and informative coverage of events such as the Wimbledon Championships and last year’s Sochi Winter Olympics have cemented her popularity. She won the Sports Journalists’ Association Broadcast Presenter of the Year in 2014.

Sports broadcaster Eleanor Oldroyd

Jan Paterson

CEO of the British Olympic  Foundation and a director at the British Olympic Association

Paterson has worked in British sport since she moved here from her native Canada to work with the British Ski Federation after the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. She has attended every Olympic and Winter Olympic Games since 1992, and has held important organisational roles with both London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Dame Mary Peters


As a shotputter and a pentathlete, Mary Peters’ Olympic and Commonwealth gold medals are the stuff of legend (at a young age, she asked for cement to make a shotput circle in her garden). After winning gold in the 1972 Olympics, she received death threats for being a Protestant, but insisted on returning home to Belfast. Thought to be the epitome of decency and generosity in her commitment to giving back to sport in her community.

Jennie Price

CEO Sport England

As well as being chief exec of Sport England and a pioneer of sport development, Price has presided over the successful campaign “This Girl Can”, launched early this year to  help encourage women up and down the land to run, swim and jump off the sofa, with the (admittedly, as yet uncharted) goal of inspiring body confidence and enjoyment of sport.

Kelly Smith

England and Arsenal Ladies footballer

Smith, who accumulated 117 caps for England, is a record breaker both at home and abroad. Not only is she the only athlete to have been awarded America’s Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year in the same season, she is also England’s highest-ever goalscorer, having netted 46 in her career. A trailblazer in women’s football.

Chrissie Wellington


A four-time Ironman World Champion, Wellington holds, or has held, all three world and championship records relating to ironman-distance triathlon races – making her a legend in the sport. She campaigns with great commitment and effectiveness for full equality in all aspects of sport, including for a Women’s Tour de France.

The ones to watch in the fast lane

Nicole Cooke

Commonwealth, Olympic and World road race champion

Welsh cyclist Cooke set her heart on an Olympic gold medal when she was 11 and achieved it at Beijing in 2008. She went on to become the first rider to win Olympic and World Championship road-race gold in the same year. Since retiring from cycling, her autobiography, The Breakaway, was The Sunday Times’s sport book of the year in 2014. Cooke is now forging a career in the business world.

Shauna Coxsey

Professional rock climber

Coxsey is only 22, but she has been climbing for 18 years. She has been in the top four in world championships several times and has been appointed one of the British Mountaineering Council’s  first ambassadors, campaigning to kick sexism out of the sport.  So far, she has won two World  Cups and finished runner-up in 2014’s BT Sport Action Woman of the Year Awards.

Alex Danson

England hockey player

Danson made her international debut for the England women’s hockey team in 2001, when she was 16. Since then, she has completed at two Olympic Games and works as  an athlete mentor for Sky Sports Living for Sport and for the Youth Sport Trust.

Liz Dimmock

Founder of Women Ahead

This businesswoman cycled the entire route of the Tour de France in 2012 as part of the Tour de Force for amateur cyclists. Inspired by gender inequality in the sport, she set up Women Ahead to foster a global debate about the advancement of women in sport and business.

Sharon Fuller

Producer at BBC Sport

Fuller has worked as a production executive on multiple BBC sports shows, covering the Olympics, MotoGP and Formula One. Her greatest achievement is championing the broadcasting of women’s cycling. She headed Get Inspired, the BBC Sport campaign to make Britons more active. She also created The Cycle Show, on ITV, which made the subject accessible to all.

Jo Melchior

Ex-swimmer, and hockey coach

This powerhouse head of FRE Flyers has a terrific track record in engaging with the grass-roots and has just been taken on as a consultant by the British Tennis Foundation to drive up participation. Her own backstory includes swimming for Britain, a sports scholarship to the US, and a stint managing Brixton Leisure Centre.

Stevie Mitchell

Multi-sports coach

Mitchell, still in her teens, is a founder member of the East End community sports club the FRE Flyers – created to give the 2012 Olympics a legacy in the local community. When younger, she had anger-management issues and patchy school attendance, but Mitchell, from Stratford, east London, has become the “Big Sis” of the club. She is now a qualified level 1 coach in multi-sports, including wheelchair sports. She is also a National Pool Lifeguard and is on track to become one of the country’s most charismatic and committed coaches.

Michelle Moore

Athlete turned development consultant

Moore is passionate about sport as a tool for social change. She is a trustee for the Runnymede Trust (the UK’s leading race equality thinktank); holds a number of executive positions, including at the Black Cultural Archives and Connie Henry’s Track Academy; and advises the Women’s Sport Trust on diversity. Her consultancy company, Moore Development, provides event management, executive coaching and mentoring.

Ali Oliver

CEO Youth Sport Trust

Newly appointed at Youth Sport Trust, Oliver is responsible for the development and implementation of local and nationwide youth sport projects such as Change4Life. Having worked in sport for her entire career, first as a teacher and then as a physical education lecturer, Oliver leads the charge in getting young girls and boys into sport.

Molly Samuel-Leport

Karate champion turned politician

A British karate former world champion and 6th dan black belt, who won gold medals at five European Championships as well as the 1989 Sunday Times International Sports Woman of the Year award, Samuel-Leport has now turned her attention to politics. She stood as Conservative Party candidate in Walthamstow, east London, in the 2015 general election.

Nicole Sapstead

CEO of UK Anti-Doping

Sapstead has worked in the anti-doping sector since 1998 and has held a number of positions at UK Anti-Doping. She was promoted to chief executive of the organisation in February 2015 at a point when controversy about drug-taking in sport had increased dramatically. She has spoken out against the lack of gender and ethnic minority diversity in the upper echelons of sport.

Kelly Sotherton

Olympian and broadcaster

Formerly an Olympic heptathlete, Sotherton switched to journalism and commentary and regularly appears on Radio 5 Live and TalkSport. Unlike some athletes, rather than just vent frustration at sports’ governing bodies, she has taken on an advisory role in sports governance. She is a strong advocate of keeping drugs out of sport.

Jo Tongue

CEO of Tongue Tied Media

A former presenter for the BBC, with a long career in radio and television, Tongue moved into talent management. Her company, Tongue Tied Media, is cultivating some of the best talent in sports broadcasting and proving a powerful agent in a male-dominated sphere.

Katie Walsh


In 2012, Walsh became the highest-ever female finisher in a Grand National, crossing the line at Aintree just 12 metres short of the winner. Her interviews with the BBC exposed the sexism at the heart of the sport: Michael Tebbutt, a coach at the British Racing School, told her that opportunities for women to become top jockeys were limited because “it boils down to strength”. She is proving him wrong.

Annie Zaidi

Football coach

The first Muslim woman to get a Level 2 coaching badge from the Football Association, Zaidi is an ambassador for Sporting Equals and chair of the Black and Asian Coaches Association, inspiring others with her battle against prejudice. She is working towards becoming a fully qualified FA tutor, and aims to coach elite male and female players.

How we got it down to just  the top 50...

The panel of judges was drawn from across sporting disciplines and comprised athletes, administrators, and journalists – with input via email from a wide range of expert organisations and individuals. Nominations had been circulated in advance of a meeting last week, held over several hours, at which each name was discussed and scored – the debate was intense.

The highly experienced sports journalist Sue Mott oversaw the proceedings and edited the citations, which were compiled by Caitlin Doherty, James Beeson, Bridie Pearson-Jones  and Gabriel Popham.