As the first woman elected to the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) executive, Lydia Nsekera hopes that females will aspire to hold leadership positions in world sports organizations.
Nsekera, who is also an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member since 2009, was elected to the ruling board of the sport’s governing body in May 2013.
“For me, it’s important for the development of soccer in general and women soccer in particular,” the French-speaking former Burundi Soccer Association president told Share through an interpreter while in Toronto last week for the opening of the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup. “It also sends a strong message to the world that women can be leaders too.”
Last November, Nsekera was ousted as her country’s national soccer association president. She lost 31-25 to parliamentary senator, Reverien Ndikuriyo.
During her nine-year reign at the helm, Burundi advanced to its first ever continental championship – the third biennial Orange African Championship of Nations in South Africa earlier this year.
“One of my proudest moments was that I was able to qualify one of our teams for an African tournament,” she said. “I think I got a lot of positive things accomplished during my time as the president of our soccer association. I won two elections and lost the third time around. It’s part of soccer and anything. You win some and you lose sometimes. Though I am no longer the president, I remain involved in the sport as vice-president of a first division team. I am still very much engaged in the game in Burundi.”
Nsekera, 47, was introduced to the sport by her father, who was the president of a local soccer club.
“My passion for the game came from him,” she said proudly. “Though I didn’t play, I followed him to the stadium to watch matches. And I was always involved in soccer.”
A widow for the past 11 years after her husband succumbed to cancer, Nsekera – who has a degree in economics and administrative sciences and is the director of an automobile garage – is raising her two teenage sons who play the sport.
Nsekera is one of three women to become African soccer association presidents. Liberian Izetta Wesley broke the glass ceiling in 2004. She held the position for six years. In August 2013, Isha Johansen was elected president of the Sierra Leone Soccer Association.
As the deputy chairwoman of the Under-20 World Cup organizing committee, Nsekera attended the tournament’s opening press conference at the Westin Harbour Castle with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who took full credit for her appointment to the FIFA executive and the organization’s efforts to modernize the governance.
“It took more than 100 years before FIFA was able to elect a woman in the executive committee,” he said. “Soccer is really a macho game. It’s so difficult to accept women in the game. Not playing the game, but in the governance. If you look at the organization of FIFA, the president is elected by the congress and all the other members of the executive are elected by the confederations. And the confederations never would have proposed a lady.
“In 2011, the president of FIFA (Blatter) went to the congress and asked them to give us at least one lady. They said yes. It’s not easy to change these attitudes. One day, a woman should take the chair of FIFA.”
At last year’s FIFA Congress in Mauritius, Nsekera was elected to a four-year term while Asian Soccer Federation vice-president Moya Dodd of Australia and Turks & Caicos Islands soccer association secretary-general Sonia Bien-Aime were co-opted to FIFA’s decision-making body, which now comprises 25 full members and two appointees who will serve 12 months.