Big changes are happening in Grenada’s football. Not out on the pitch or even in the technical area, but in the mundane milieu of the FA offices, in among the copy machines and gurgling coffee makers. Malaika Church, at just 30 years old, stepped into the role of Acting General Secretary of the nation’s footballing establishment this summer, becoming one of only a handful of woman to hold such a lofty title across FIFA’s 209 member associations.
“She has a hunger to learn. She’s hard working and dedicated,” said Grenada’s FA president Cheney Joseph, a former captain of the men’s national team, known as the Spice Boyz. A wiry and perceptive man, who still straps on the boots now and then, he was instrumental in the promotion of Ms. Church from unpaid volunteer to one of the major decision-makers at the nation’s footballing epicentre.
There’s pride in the president’s voice when he talks about his young protégée. “She can be a little bit stubborn at times, I must say,” the president, five years in his post, added with a smile, showing the warmth the Caribbean island nation of Grenada is known for.
Joseph first came to know Church four years ago, while being interviewed on Grenada’s main TV station. A young production intern at the station, she introduced herself to the most powerful man in the island’s football. When she called the FA few months later, looking for a volunteer position, the president was thrilled.
Church volunteered on the women’s side of football development. “She started using social media to drum up support,” Joseph said. “She had something special. Not just a woman’s touch, it was something more.”
After leaving to pursue a masters degree in China, Church returned to the GFA, again as a volunteer. But working for the previous General Secretary, Ambrose Phillip, her role was mostly administrative, her talent and competence wasted. When her boss resigned in May of this year, President Joseph saw the opportunity to shake things up. He appointed Church Acting General Secretary. “She was right for the job,” he insisted. “If she’s in this job for five years, she can be one of the more prominent leaders in Caribbean football.”
But first Church is in Zurich at FIFA Headquarters, one of 35 women from all over the globe taking part in a week-long meeting of FIFA’s Female Leadership Development Programme. Part of a nine-month course, in partnership with the THNK School of Creative Leadership, the aim is to increase the number of female leaders in football.
Busy days, future gains
Cheney isn’t thrilled to lose one of his best people during a busy time. The GFA Premier League – the country’s top flight – is in full swing and Grenada is ramping up to the host the CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in March.
“We’re busy over here,” the President admitted. “But if I know Malaika, she’ll still be doing a lot of her work from over in Zurich! The course will benefit us all in the long term, so we’re getting off cheap.”
The appointment of Church to a position of prominence is merely the crest of a wave of female empowerment in Grenada’s football. Eight female match officials are currently blowing whistles and waving flags in the men’s top flight. The FA is planning to hire a woman for the role of communications officer in the coming months and reaching out to veteran women’s players as possible coaches for the future.
“We still have to overcome the taboo that football is a sport for men,” Joseph said. Church is doing her part to dispel such antiquated notions. Her latest idea, in a young career full of ideas, is for a pair of mascots: Spice and Spicy. One male and one female, to open the minds of children on the island. “They’ll be cartoons and comics. They’ll appeal to kids at a very young age.”
With a dynamo like Ms. Church roaming the FA office halls, who knows how much change might come to Grenada’s football, and how far it might ripple into the rest of the Caribbean. “She has so many ideas,” concluded Joseph with a chuckle. “You can’t even believe it.”