- Kanya Keomany has been a pioneering female administrator in Asia
- Laotian one of a handful of women leading a national football association
- Plans to raise football in Laos, including first Women's World Cup campaign
Kanya Keomany is a rarity in world football. As General Secretary of the Lao Football Federation, she is one of the few female administrative heads of a national governing body.
And the well-regarded Laotian has built a strong record of landmark achievements. She has worked for over a decade as an AFC match commissioner and in 2018 was elected to the AFC Executive Committee – one of just four women on the continental body. Keomany has also served as a member of AFC's Women’s Football Committee.
Keomany achieved a new benchmark as a match commissioner in 2019 by looking after the AFC Cup final, becoming the first female to oversee a continental decider in a men’s competition. She is also one of just four women selected by FIFA and the AFC as part of the team overseeing FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers.
It is just another chapter in what is already a plentiful and diverse CV. Keomany’s previous roles have included work in sports promotion, media and the textile industry. But football has always been a passion, and it is what drives her unstinting work at the helm of the South-east Asian nation’s football association.
Role models set example
Keomany says she hasn’t faced discrimination in her role, but nevertheless hopes her status sends positive signals. “Role models play a big part in football on and off the field,” she told FIFA.com. “Having positive role models is important to keep people inspired and motivated to achieve their goals.
“I am grateful if what I do could possibly influence more females to step forward to make a difference. Most important is to be able to set an example that football is the sport for everyone from various backgrounds, regardless of their gender.
“We know that sometimes being female in male-dominated business, you have to work twice as hard to be accepted. People tend to watch every step you take either to criticise your mistakes or to analyse your achievements.
“However, I take it as a positive because my work will be seen and my voice will be heard without asking for attention. What ultimately matters to stakeholders is that the results of the (my) work influence their actions.”
Old culture, new faces
Laos is among Asia’s older football nations, having been affiliated to FIFA in 1952. Their achievements on the international stage have, however, been modest.
With the region boasting solid foundations in women’s football, Keomany is optimistic that Laos can further grow the local game. She has also been a passionate advocate for women’s football, be it in her current role or previously on Lao's first women’s football committee.
Under her watch, a long-term plan for women's football has been put in place with numerous national youth teams established. There has also been a concerted and successful attempt to grow the number of women's football competitions, and the number of female referees and coaches.
At senior level, the national team has been reinvigorated after years of inactivity. Laos are now looking to participate in FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying for the first time when the 2023 campaign begins later this year.
Keomany says the nation has become increasingly receptive to female football in recent years. “Fortunately, in Laos especially in this generation we have been given equal opportunities between males and females in football in particular,” she said. “However, the perspective and stereotype of women football or women in football is still an obstacle to pulling in more women to the football industry.
“The challenge for females playing football in Laos is most likely from the stereotypes and the expectation on appearances when they become footballers. Lack of family support is our common issue that we are in the progress of changing people's perspectives and educating them that football is not only for males, but for females too, and that these players can continue to have their career in this industry when playing is no longer an option for them.
“The current goal is to expand football to every corner of the country and turn football to become the most popular activity. Eventually we hope to see football turn professional and our players able to make a living from playing football in Laos.”