The timing of FIFA’s Female Leadership Development Programme (FLDP) could hardly have been better for participant Sara Booth, who this month stepped up to lead what will be the biggest women’s football tournament in her native Northern Ireland.
The former international started the nine-month programme as Women's Domestic Football Manager for the Irish Football Association (IFA) but will finish it in the more senior role of Tournament Director for the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship 2017.
It’s a deserving appointment for someone who has achieved so much in the game both on and off the field. Booth debuted for Northern Ireland at the age of 15 and accumulated 33 caps. After joining the IFA 13 years ago, she helped secure funding for the women’s national team to return to international football after a five-year hiatus.
The women’s game has gone from strength to strength since then, with highlights including a 2013 UEFA HatTrick Award for the ‘Best Women’s Football Development Project’ for the innovative IFA SCORE Pilot Project and the launch of the IFA Girls’ and Women’s Football Plan in 2014. Today, Booth has her sights on delivering the best-ever European Women's Under-19 Championship and using the event to leave a lasting legacy.
Ahead of the third and final FLDP workshop, which will take place in Amsterdam from 29 February to 3 March, FIFA.com caught up with the former Northern Ireland captain to hear her thoughts on the programme.
In March you’ll be concluding the Female Leadership Development Programme. What is your assessment of the programme? Booth: I think it’s been excellent. From day one we were thrown into situations that pushed us out of our comfort zone. In the past I’ve tended to operate independently but as a result of this programme I now have a better appreciation of the power of leveraging the networks you have. It’s helped me to develop my own leadership style and define my goals for future. I’ve also really valued getting to know the other participants and mentors and staying in touch with them through an online platform. Hearing stories about the challenges of developing women’s football in places like Rwanda and Trinidad & Tobago has put things into perspective for me.
What impact has it had on you? I think the leadership programme has helped me to become a stronger, more mature professional and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to take part. It gave me the confidence in my ability and courage to go for the role of Tournament Director for the UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship. I’ve moved from a position of manager to director and in making this transition, I now have more tools in my armoury to call upon to meet the challenges.
What have you taken away from the programme and applied in your previous role and new role? Creativity and innovation are the main focus areas of the programme. In my previous role I looked to bring that into the IFA Football Development team during a staff conference before Christmas by taking the 60 staff through a creative thinking session that was really well received. In my new role, I’ve been applying the idea of best utilising your networks. UEFA created a logo for the tournament and we’re getting as many people as we can to be photographed with it, whether it be staff, celebrities, politicians or sponsors, and promoting those photos in a creative way to raise the profile of the tournament. I’m also not afraid to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and that’s particularly important at the moment because I’ve been working for 13 years specifically in women’s football development, and in my new role I’m now responsible for overseeing a far wider range of areas including operations, corporate services, marketing and others.
Why do you think it is important for there to be more female leaders in football? You just need to look at what someone like Moya Dodd has done. Moya and others have presented a wealth of evidence that shows it makes better business sense to have more women involved in decision-making. And I would say it’s about effecting change. There’s such a community of women now that want to be involved in the game. Football is the universal sport and it should be open to everyone. I think the sooner we have more female leaders the sooner we’ll achieve that.
Would you recommend the leadership programme to others? I’ve actually already had others contact me to ask if it’s worthwhile applying and my answer has been unequivocally yes. I’m now looking forward to hearing whether they have been accepted into the next edition.
Looking ahead to the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship, what are your objectives for the tournament? Collectively we want to deliver the best possible tournament we can and to ensure that it serves as a catalyst to drive participation levels and raise the profile of women’s football. It’s also an opportunity to promote Northern Ireland and show that we are a football-loving nation. We now have a beautiful national stadium and we see this event as the first in a long list of tournaments we’d love to host.