— When FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in Zurich last year, told Congress that it was time to bring a woman into the executive committee, there was a whiff of tokenism about the proposal.

But now that Blatter, despite grudging resistence from some of his exco colleagues, has fulfilled his promise that notion can be dispelled.

Lydia Nsekera sees her arrival, ending 108 years of male power in the world game’s ‘government’, as anything but a gesture to political correctness. But she is used to being a trail-blazer. An IOC member since 2009, she is the only woman president of all the world’s 209 national associations.

On-screen at Congress: Nsekera and Blatter

Now to put that experience to use for the sake of the greater good of the game. As she told me: “I bring the experience I have gained as a president of a federation and as a member of confederation and FIFA committees, and to make my views known to my colleagues on the executive committee.”

Some of those ‘colleagues’ are in for a shock, judging from Blatter’s description of their resistance to the very idea of a woman in their corridor of power. He said: “Some members of the executive committee said: ‘One year for a woman on the committee and then we will see about the future,’ but I will defend this situation now we have achieved it.

“There was also a move by some people who said: ‘If we are going to take a vote next year then surely there is no reason to admit a woman to the executive committee now?’ That’s true. It has been written down in meeting notes.”

Nsekera, 45, a basketball player and high jumper, followed her father into football administration 12 years ago. By then she was director of a car repair business and she swiftly brought her love of sports and here business expertise to bear on Burundi football and the national Olympic committee.

In 2004, reluctantly, she took over as president of the Burundi football federation. The country’s football was in chaos: FIFA had frozen its annual grants because of corruption allegations and the league had been shut down for three years.

Nsekera turned around the administration – and attitudes.

Reform agenda

As she said: “We had women players, referees, women coaches but very few had reached positions of responsibility. There was also the issue of men’s attitudes. So I encouraged women in football.

“For example, I wanted to see women refereeing men’s first division matches so that is what we have achieved. I wanted to see them as presidents of leagues and clubs but not only women’s football clubs but men’s clubs too.”

Nsekera, not surprisingly with that grounding, is right behind the project to reform FIFA’s governance. She says: “Reform is is necessary and more transparency is necessary. Some transparency exists now but it has to be improved.”

But, in the meantime, she maintains a perspective that any allegations of corruption and malpractice need to be following through correctly.

She said: “If there is wrongdoing it has to be addressed but it is essential that there is proof. That applies just the same in a federation or confederation of FIFA. We can’t afford to have people just running around shouting about corruption if there is no evidence.”

This, said Nsekera, was a factor in creating a better image for FIFA out in the world at large. She said: “We need clear, clear transparency and ethical behaviour because, beyond football, we must transmit a good image to those people who see us only from the outside and don’t know what’s inside the door or how the rooms are furnished.”

Her recipe may scare some of the new exco colleagues.

“We need more hard-working women in leadership positions,” said Nsekera.

And, clearly, she plans on leading the way.

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Also at www.World

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