In a world under lockdown, members of the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Sports & Games class remind us just how impactful leadership can be in times of crisis.
In a year marred by the spread of Covid-19, government lockdowns and economic struggles, members of the Forbes 2021 30 Under 30 Europe Sports & Games list reminded us just how impactful leadership can be in times of crisis. This select group chose not to rest on their laurels (in these crazy times, none would be knocked if they had) and continued to fight long-standing issues, such as representation, diversity, gender equity and child hunger, which was amplified by the pandemic.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford sprang into action almost immediately after the pandemic exacerbated an issue close to his heart – child hunger and poverty. At just 23 years old, the star striker confidently campaigned the British Government into policy reforms that guaranteed 1.7 million children access to vital food sources during the pandemic. Rashford, who has scored 10 club goals this season for the Red Devils, also raised more than £20 million through food charity FareShare, secured funding for 15 youth centers and is writing a series of children’s books.
“Marcus' selflessness is very special,” says SC Bern General Manager and 30 Under 30 Judge Florence Schelling.
Israeli bobsled star Adam Edelman might well be at the other end of the fame spectrum compared to a Premier League football star, but this MIT graduate who taught himself the dangerous art of skeleton bobsled from watching YouTube videos has used his platform to campaign against bullying as an advocate for LGBTQ+ representation in sport. Despite not having heard of him, our judges found Edelman’s story compelling.
“Adam presents a perfect blend of sports values: determination, competitiveness, great skills, and social awareness,” says Pixellot CEO and 30 Under 30 Judge Alon Werber. “And adds some entrepreneurship spirit to the blend.”
On the business side of the sport world, Anna Chanduvi, Facebook’s sports media partnership guru in the EMEA region, has balanced her day job with founding WBR Network, a social-first production company championing women in sports, and Sport Equity, an NGO promoting gender equity in the industry. Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings, a list-maker in 2020 who came back to judge the 2021 list, described Chanduvi’s extracurricular work as an “amazing initiative” adding, “Anna has demonstrated a real drive to be right at the front of social change and business excellence.”
The era of “stick to sports” continues to fade, with more stars using their fame to positively impact society, says Werber. He adds, “Recognizing these activities by us, the judges, in our ratings is sending a strong message that in our generation, social responsibility and activism, and not only championships and record breaking, is a fundamental part of being an admired sport star.”
Chelsea’s Danish goal-getter Pernille Harder, a two-time UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, LGBTQ+ rights advocate and a member of Common Goal, a social activism group in football, is one living example of that sentiment. Rugby star Maro Itoje of England and Saracens has also lived up to the call, tackling issues on identity and winning praise for articulating what it is to be both Nigerian and English in a fiercely patriotic sport. Mings calls Itoje a “driver for change” in a sport that’s tough to nudge in that direction.
“It is difficult in rugby to tackle diversity because as a sport, it's definitely not as progressive as football and certainly not as open to change,” Mings says. “Maro has demonstrated his social awareness multiple times and I think will go on to be a very key figure across the world of rugby, politics and business.”
“Social responsibility and activism, and not only championships and record breaking, is a fundamental part of being an admired sport star.”
In the emerging world of esports the likes of Lasse Aukusti Urpalainen and Mathieu Herbaut have won big money and acclaim for their respective performances over the year. But gaming, not just esports, is emerging as an industry where young talent can force change for the better. Karla Reyes from Square Enix and Code Coven is working to bring unrepresented talent to the forefront of the games industry, while the sheer energy toward raising the voices of marginalized genders of Marina Díez Pereiro, a game developer and founder of Three of Cups Games, was celebrated by Werber for a career so far built on a “unique character and virtues.”
Members of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Europe Sports & Games list were selected from a wide pool of candidates cultivated from a variety of sources, including a public online nomination form, Under 30 alumni, sports industry contacts and internal research. Our panel of judges consisted of: Mary Antieul, director of operations, research & strategy for Belong at Vindex LLC, Tyrone Mings, a Premier League footballer and 30 Under 30 alumnus, Florence Schelling, a bronze medalist in Olympic ice hockey and general manager of Swiss hockey club SC Bern, and Alon Werber, CEO of sports tech firm Pixellot.