Bay Area sports exec redefines boys' club culture
Zaileen Janmohamed, CEO and president of the Bay Area Host Committee, oversees preparations for Levi’s Stadium which will host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

As a child, Zaileen Janmohamed didn't gravitate toward ballet or gymnastics. What excited her involved kicking, dribbling or spiking a ball. She was passionate about team sports, which taught her far more than the emotions that come from a win or a loss. It taught her life skills that helped build confidence, critical thinking and the know-how of when to push the boundaries.

It's these attributes and others that landed her the position of CEO and president of the Bay Area Host Committee overseeing preparations for Levi’s Stadium to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Her other responsibilities include bringing high-profile sports and live events to the stadium.

As a woman of color in a male-dominated industry, Janmohamed, 45, said breaking barriers requires a strategic skill set and industry knowledge. But most of all, a person has to prove they can do good work, she said. 

“While we’re not there yet, there are now many examples… of women who have broken down barriers and gotten into positions nobody thought was possible five years ago,” she told Lucescamaray Blog. “It takes people pushing the envelope forward and it takes your own work ethic and passion and confidence.”

Zaileen Janmohamed said sports and technology aren't traditionally industries where women break through to senior levels. She wants to change that. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Raised in Vancouver, Canada by parents who immigrated from Africa due to political unrest, Janmohamed was a sports enthusiast from an early age and someone who knew her own mind. Although her traditional Muslim parents tried to channel her energy toward more feminine activities, she longed to participate in competitive team sports. She eventually won them over and played soccer, basketball, volleyball and even ice hockey.

“At some point, my parents realized I had this passion,” Janmohamed told Lucescamaray Blog. “But the early years were me just having to find my way to do the things that I loved until I got comfortable saying, ‘This is who I am. This is what I want to do.’”

She's inspired by athletes who overcame challenges like marathon runner Terry Fox and track and field athlete Rick Hansen. Fox ran across Canada with a prosthetic leg to raise money for cancer research and Hansen, a wheelchair athlete, raised funds for spinal cord research in a cross-Canada and international trek.

“I just don’t settle,” she said. “I just continue to push and push.” 

Janmohamed reports to the Bay Area Host Committee’s board of directors, which includes leaders from the San Francisco 49ers, Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants, Oakland As and San Jose Earthquakes. 

Al Guido, Bay Area Host Committee board member and president of the 49ers, said Janmohamed has an innate ability to unite people of different industries and backgrounds around a common goal. He said her professional experiences—head of commercial development and innovation of LA28, an organizing company for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics and Paralympic Games, and head of Olympics management and senior director of sponsorship strategy at Visa—make her ideal for the job.

“She is a long-tenured sports and entertainment industry veteran who has worked on some of the biggest events in the world,” Guido told Lucescamaray Blog. “Anyone who meets Zaileen can tell she is a special person; someone who is driven, dedicated, passionate and thoughtful. The Bay Area is lucky that she is at the helm of this effort.”

Raising the standards

One of her mentors, Amy Gleeson, chief marketing officer for LA28, said Janmohamed is smart, strategic and hardworking—and doesn’t hesitate to ask tough questions. 

“She’s a rock star,” Gleeson told Lucescamaray Blog. “She’s consistently stepped into new roles and defined them. She’s always looking to learn. She’s always looking to grow, and she’s got a great sense of humor.”

Gleeson said the boy’s club sports culture still exists, but Janmohamed is thriving despite that.

“I’ve seen her put in the work, become more confident as she uses her voice to advocate, sponsor and mentor younger women coming up,” she said. “She is a strong presence in any group of people.”

Janmohamed received her bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and an MBA and master's degree in sports management from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She founded a women in sports program at the University of Massachusetts and sits on the board of Women in Sports and Technology.

“Sports and technology are not traditionally industries where you see a lot of women break through to senior levels,” she said. “I sit on that board to make sure we’re building skill sets.”

Janmohamed is excited to bring the World Cup to the Bay Area. Working with local governments, corporate and community partners, she wants to build a legacy following the World Cup, including more soccer fields and community programs.

“Professionally, it means I get to bring events to the Bay that will bring our communities together, that will be good for business and allow young people to experience a sport like they’ve never experienced it before,” she said. “On the personal side, it means that more women and women of color will see me and say, ‘That’s amazing. I want to do that, too.'”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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