Cook: Don’t be afraid to be yourself and to challenge

  • Joyce Cook CBE, OBE speaks with on International Women’s Day

  • Cook one of four women who sit on FIFA’s management board

  • FIFA firmly committed to using football’s platform to positively impact society, says Cook

Joyce Cook is FIFA’s Chief Education and Social Responsibility Officer and has been a leading voice for the LGBTIQ+ and disabled community, as well as a passionate advocate for equal rights in sport and wider society.

Since joining FIFA in 2016, Joyce has played an important part in delivering FIFA’s landmark football development programme – FIFA Forward – as well as several other FIFA initiatives in the field of safeguarding, human rights and diversity and inclusion.

As part of a series for International Women’s Day 2021 celebrating women at FIFA, sat down with Joyce to hear about her learnings and insights from a career in sport and advocacy spanning almost 20 years, as well as an update on steps FIFA is taking to promote Diversity & Inclusion and safeguarding in football.

You’ve had a hugely successful and varied career journey so far, supporting countless NGOs and promoting equal rights inside and outside of sport. What has your journey been like and who inspired you throughout your career?

I started my career in the field of microbiology, nursing and then medical sales. It was in the early 2000s where I started working actively in the football industry, firstly in improving accessibility in football stadiums and then followed by other advocacy areas, including gender, anti-discrimination and equal rights. That being said, I’m a passionate football fan and have been going to matches for much of my adult life.

In terms of my inspirations, there have been so many throughout my career. Two women from history I look up to are Florence Nightingale and Rosa May Billinghurst. Both incredibly passionate women, who were ground-breaking in terms of what they did in the fields of nursing and women’s rights and who changed the world for the better.

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Since joining FIFA in 2016, you’ve worked with numerous organisations across football, including member associations, NGOs and leading policy-makers in sport and beyond. What approach does FIFA have in the area of Diversity & Inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion is a hugely important topic for FIFA. We are firmly committed to encouraging dialogue and recognise the unique platform that football has to reach people. In particular, we deliver programmes that not only aim to raise awareness and promote better understanding on key social issues, but also use the unique influence and reach of football to engage people in a positive way. One recent example was the #SafeHome campaign to end domestic violence campaigns. FIFA also develops specific promotional initiatives and advocacy campaigns for FIFA tournaments with host countries too.

Our ongoing work together with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SCDL) to protect workers rights’, as well as anti-discrimination training programmes, and a range of diversity and inclusion initiatives for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year, are further examples.

More broadly, as part of its overall vision, FIFA is continuing to support a range of development and leadership programmes for women in football, as well as running various internal initiatives, such as the FIFA Women’s Network to support and mentor staff.

We are very aware that there are challenges in football and that it isn’t immune from issues affecting wider society. A major part of my role is to develop programmes and initiatives to help address these issues. FIFA is open and committed to listening and engaging with key stakeholders, and other experts, to see how we can support awareness-raising more broadly, such as joining the recent #ActTogether campaign to promote equitable access to vaccines.

FIFA has also taken several important steps in the field of safeguarding through its FIFA Guardians programme. How important will this area be for football over the next few years?

Child protection and safeguarding is another area that FIFA is taking a strong leadership position on, and something we are taking extremely seriously.

As part of the FIFA Guardians programme - and toolkit which FIFA launched in July 2019 - and together with Open University, we’ve begun a major new safeguarding educational programme – the FIFA Guardians Safeguarding in Sport Diploma - which is designed to professionalise the role of a safeguarding officer and to educate and build safeguarding capacity across football, particularly within our 211 member associations.

The response so far has been extremely positive with almost 800 learners having registered for course one, with the first webinar taking place last month. Safeguarding is an area in football where we feel so much more can still be done. It’s absolutely essential that organisations in football, particularly member associations, right the way through to grassroots clubs, take this seriously and put in place proper safeguarding measures to protect children and vulnerable adults from harassment and abuse.

At FIFA, we are continuing to invest in and develop long-term programmes with this in mind, in addition to further strengthening existing reporting and statutory processes currently in place.

Very soon, we’ll also be launching a dedicated safeguarding programme for FIFA competitions, which will be another important step to ensuring that children or adults can play football in a safe environment and can seek help and support when cases do occur.

Finally, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. What’s your message to football and women and girls around the world?

I think my #choosetochallenge message on International Women’s Day to other women and girls would be to consider every step as an opportunity to learn more, trust your instinct and don’t be afraid to be yourself and to challenge. In fact, it’s your fundamental right to do so.

This article is part of our series on women's football and women in football to mark International Women's Day 2021. To find out more about FIFA's Women's Football Strategy and development programmes, and to read other articles like this, click here.