The first-ever election for a female representative on the FIFA Executive Committee is due to take place at this year’s FIFA Congress in Mauritius, with interim post-holder Lydia Nsekera among four highly experienced candidates vying for the position.
The Burundi Football Association President made history at last year’s FIFA Congress in Budapest when she was co-opted onto the FIFA Executive Committee as the committee’s first-ever female member on an interim one-year basis.
Starting with this year’s Congress in Mauritius, however, the position will be subject to an election process involving all the Congress members, and with the term of office extended to the same four years as the other Executive Committee members.
Nsekera will be standing against three other highly experienced candidates, each of whom were nominated by their respective confederations, and she fully recognises the significance of being able to contribute to FIFA’s Executive Committee. Speaking of the proposal – made two years ago – to create the role, she said, “I was delighted [about the news] and I said to myself that this would be good for the development of women’s football, the decision would encourage women to work harder and to fill senior positions in member associations”.
Nsekera, who is also an International Olympic Committee member, said that the further development of women’s football, particularly at grassroots level, will be high on her to-do list if she is elected in May. She also pledged to work on convincing other association presidents to develop the women’s game in their territories, as well as asking them to do more to put female administrators in decision-making roles, and she believes that the women’s game should use men’s football as a model for growth.
“Women’s football must develop in the same way as the men’s game and in all areas, such as refereeing, training, administration, governance, players’ status and marketing.”
Encouraging a change of attitudes within member associations is also a key aim for CONCACAF nominee Sonia Bien-Aime.
Having herself risen to the rank of General Secretary at the Turks & Caicos Islands Football Association (TCIFA), Bien-Aime believes that FIFA’s decision to include a woman on its Executive Committee will send out a clear message to individual member associations.
“It is FIFA saying ‘not only are we committed to growing women’s football, but we are also a gender-neutral organisation that recognises the role women can play in its movement to further develop and improve the sport’,” Bien-Aime explains, adding that “hopefully, it will encourage member associations to look closely at the composition of their own executive committees and follow suit”.
A former athlete who represented her country internationally in track and field events, softball and as the captain of the Turks & Caicos Islands women’s national football team, Bien-Aime also sits on the executive committee of the Caribbean Football Union.
Having worked in a “man’s world” at both national and regional level, she also believes that the decision to include a woman on the FIFA Executive Committee is not just about seeking a female perspective, but more about acquiring “knowledge and insight from women who are active in the administration of football and who can give a voice to issues common to the objectives of FIFA”.
Another candidate with sporting experience beyond the realms of football is New Zealander Paula Kearns, who has spent the last three years as CEO of Canoe Racing New Zealand, whose team took home an Olympic gold medal last year.
A keen footballer for the past decade, she has been involved at nearly every level of the game – as a player, a coach, an occasional referee and an administrator. In the latter category, she has been a club president, served as acting CEO of New Zealand Football (NZF) and, since 2008, she has been the women’s representative on the NZF executive board.
Describing her nomination by the Oceania Football Confederation as “an honour”, Kearns said it was also “an opportunity to make a real difference internationally to the progress and growth of women’s football”.
Kearns believes the role of the Exco representative is to be “the global advocate for women’s football and the voice for women”, adding that a close working relationship between football’s governing body and the confederations and national associations is the key to driving the women’s game forward. “I would work closely with FIFA staff to ensure that there is a clear strategy for the growth of women’s football that is being achieved,” she said.
New angles and fresh perspectives are advocated by the last of the four candidates, Australia’s Moya Dodd.
A distinguished national team footballer who spent nine years representing her country – including a stint as vice-captain – Dodd went on to become the first female member of the executive committee of the Football Federation Australia, before also rising through the ranks of the Asian Football Confederation, where she is now a vice-president.
“To me, women’s football is a pure, fresh and spontaneous form of football to watch,” Dodd enthuses. “We see very little simulation or referee abuse, and plenty of good examples of respect and sporting spirit. Women’s football can help to create a refreshed, positive image for football globally.”
Dodd’s vision for the future of the women’s game is to increase the pace of football development for women and girls, create “elite pathways” to professionalism for those at the top end of the game and encourage greater participation of women in the game’s decision-making bodies at all levels.
Regardless of which candidate comes out on top at the FIFA Congress, however, Dodd is confident that the permanent presence of a woman on the Executive Committee will ensure that the ultimate winner is women’s football itself.
“I have found that most of my male colleagues are quite sympathetic to women’s football, but, when there’s a busy agenda, it can easily be forgotten or treated as a low priority,” Dodd explains. “Having a woman in the room can ensure that the FIFA Exco is informed, reminded and perhaps persuaded of these opportunities.
*Read individual interviews with the four candidates by clicking on the relevant links on the right hand side.