World Football Summit

“The countries with the best response to Covid-19 were led by women, football should learn from that”

The Women’s Leadership in Football round table at the World Football Summit discussed opportunities for women in football, the importance of believing in yourself and how a support network is vital.

“The countries with the best response to Covid-19 were led by women, football should learn from that”

The July 2020 edition of the World Football Summit, being held this week online due to the coronavirus pandemic, features 150 speakers and over 3,000 guests. The second event on the calendar was a round table event titled, ‘Women's leadership in global football’, featuring the head of professional football at FIFA, Ornella Desiree Bellia, Ebru Koksal chair of Women in Football and former general manager of Galatasaray and Magda Pozzo, strategic global marketing coordinator at Udinense and Watford, while the round table was moderated by journalist Lynsey Hooper, who founded the Offside Rule Podcast.

Women's leadership in football

The wide-ranging discussion highlighted the importance of the role of women in leadership positions, in particular the fact they often have a different point of view and can bring a fresh viewpoint to the table.

Ornella Desiree Bellia, asked about how the industry should go about getting more women into leadership positions and onto boards, was optimistic, saying that in her opinion in the future, “boards will be more balanced. Right now we have gender quotas, but they will disappear as it becomes more normal for women to be part of the decision-making process. In fact, it will be necessary to have women as part of the decision-making process.”

She gave the example of women’s leadership at Porsche: “The car manufacturer, two decades ago, was debating which type of new model to put on the market and it was actually a woman's idea to propose a new high-end model, the Cayenne, a different unconventional type, and at that time there was a lot of pushback to the idea. But as it turns out that car saved the companies financial position. And I think that’s a great example of brave and innovative female leadership.

"If we fast forward to the present moment and to these uncertain times we are currently in, I believe that one of the lessons of Covid-19 is that more women's leadership positions are needed to help deal with a crisis situation.

If you look in the countries with some of the best Covid-19 responses, they are all countries led by women. If you look at Germany, with Angela Merkel, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland. So these countries are countries that stand out because of their effective response to the crisis. So I think it's now a time for football to step back and to reinvent ourselves. I think we have to improve the game. We have to get better, we have to reinvent the game to create a more sustainable system. And I think, here is where there is a huge opportunity for women who believe, because women have a different mindset, they are more creative, they have a different imagination… they always think out of the box. So I think in this time of crisis, where we actually need agreement, and new decision-making processes, I really believe that it's time for women to lead that change."

The importance of support mechanisms

In addition to stories of success, Hooper asked Ebru Koksa, for a reflection on a moment when things had not gone to plan, and what she had learned form the experience. In reply, Koksa spoke about how she had been named Executive of the Year at the Business Awards for her work at Galatasary and then became the first woman to be elected to the board of the European Club Association before then become the general secretary of the Turkish Football Association, at a time where there were only two women general secretaries of football associations globally. However, when a new president was elected who didn’t get along with her she found herself out of the job after just a few months.

“When I look back I guess the most important thing I learnt is that I didn't have a support mechanism. I didn't have a mentor. I was all alone as as a female, particularly 10 years ago, I was one of the very, very few in the world. It's so difficult to survive, because everybody's trying to crush you, so unless you have support mechanisms, it is very difficult to survive in that kind of environment.

“Also equally important, is having the self awareness in your leadership journey - knowing your strengths, knowing your weaknesses and making sure that you work on your personal development, that you improve your leadership skills and any other skill that you're missing, because this is a very, very competitive and tough, industry, and you have to be at the top of your game with every aspect of it.”

Bringing stadium naming rights to Serie A

Turning to successes, Magda Pozzo, strategic global marketing coordinator at Udinense and Watford, said the thing in her career she was most proud of was having introduced naming rights for stadiums into Italy, where currently only 10% of clubs in Serie A have sold their naming rights, compared to 80% for the Bundesliga and 30% for the Premier League. Udinense sold the naming rights to their stadium in 2016 to car manufacturer Dacia.

“For me it was a really big, big thing and I’m very proud of it, because it's also for the first case of this type of sponsorship by a car industry worldwide.” Pozzo also discussed the importance of the stadium to the club beyond football and how it is “an incubator of ideas”, with the ground having to work “365 days year”. “So in our case, you know we have events, we have meetings we have a restaurant for the players and their families. We have kids activities, we have we have summer school and management courses for the university during summer. I don't want it to sound bad but it’s really using football as a way to do many more things in a stadium than just play a football game. This is really important and I've been very proud of that and trying to do my best and that’s what I’ll continue to do.

One thing to change...

Asked about one thing they hope for in the next year the panellists gave the following answers:

Ornella Desiree Bellia: "I hope we can get the best out of the crisis and use it as an opportunity, using it to break the mould and allow us to work for a better environment and a better football eco-system and a better world."

Ebru Koksa, talking about the financial impact: "It would be great if we could embrace and bring up those who have been left behind in the sport, whether on the field or off it and provide a bit more equality."

Magda Pozzo: "We’re so affected by Covid-19, so I would like more optimism thinking, and getting back to the normal regime with all the right procedures in place."