Liz Nicholl

President of the International Netball Federation

Liz Nicholl

Alumna Liz Nicholl was awarded an Honorary Degree in Winter 2019. Here you can read her degree oration.


With less than a year to go, excitement is building for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our reputation for sporting excellence means that the games are always an important date in our calendar, and our strong association with elite performance sport is boosted by the number of students, alumni and Loughborough-based athletes that choose our East Midlands campus as their training base.

Today we welcome back a Loughborough graduate who will always be associated with Olympic and Paralympic excellence. Why does she carry this label? Because her remarkable career, spanning 10 Olympic and Paralympic Games, has put British athletes at the forefront of international sport with a reputation for winning.

Liz Nicholl is the former Chief Executive of UK Sport, the nation’s high-performance sport agency. Once described as the most powerful woman in British Sport, Liz has presided over record performances by Team GB in recent Olympic and Paralympic Games and transformed the UK high performance system.

Liz joined the Loughborough family in 1977 as a postgraduate student, studying for an MSc in Recreation Management. Prior to this she studied for a BSc in Chemistry at the University of Nottingham. She had played various sports growing up, but it was netball that became her focus and she played competitively during her time as a student and beyond. Playing as a centre and wing attack, Liz represented Wales in international netball competitions including two world championships, with 22 caps between 1975 and 1979.

In addition to playing the sport, Liz’s management career was also deeply rooted in netball. She was appointed as Chief Executive of England Netball in 1980, serving for more than 15 years over two tenures. She was also director of the 1995 World Netball Championships held in Birmingham.

Liz joined UK Sport in 1999, two years after its establishment, as the Director of Elite Sport. She was appointed chief operating officer in 2009 and a year later was named chief executive officer. Over the next ten years, under Liz’s guidance, Team GB significantly improved their performance at international sporting events, including record performances at London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016. In Rio, the UK finished second in the medal table, taking home 214 medals across both Olympic and Paralympic competitions. This was an increase on the team’s incredible medal tally at the London 2012 Games, which were held right here on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. In doing this they became the first country to increase its medal count at both the Olympics and Paralympics immediately after hosting the Games. It would be fair to say that Liz has transformed the prospects and achievements of British athletes on the world stage.

During her time with UK Sport, the UK has also become a major event host on the global stage, with the UK Sport team playing an integral role in the test event series for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as helping to bring the World Athletics Championships, two Tour de France Grand departs’ and stages, and numerous other premier major events to the UK.

Liz’s influence in the world of sport has not gone unnoticed. In 2000 she received an MBE for her services to netball, followed by an OBE for her services to sport in 2005, and a CBE for her services to sport in 2015. A year later, in 2016, she was awarded the Sports Journalists' Association Gold Medal for services to elite sport.

Liz retired as CEO of UK Sport in July 2019 and was named later that month as the new President of the International Netball Federation ahead of the 2019 Netball World Cup.

Liz has been described by her peers as an incredible leader, who is principled and consistent but also able to seek compromise and collaboration, with an enthusiasm that is infectious – traits that I’m sure will inspire all those graduating today. And this isn’t the first time she has inspired Loughborough students. She returned to our Loughborough campus earlier this year to speak with students interested in a career in the sport industry at the Talk Sport Conference 2019.

Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you, and to the whole University, Liz Nicholl for the degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.