KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Gianni Infantino’s strategy to purge FIFA of anyone who wielded authority under disgraced presidential predecessor Sepp Blatter has extended to women’s football with the departures of Tatjana Haenni and Mayi Cruz Blanco.
The manner in which two of the most visible and strident staff advocates of the women’s game have challenged chauvinistic resistance among the international brotherhood has been one of FIFA’s undisputed successes of recent years.
Haenni had spent 18 years as director of women’s football and had built a formidable reputation both in and beyond Swiss football while Cuban Cruz Blanco had been senior women’s football development manager.
The two were once described as a bad cop/good cop partnership and it will take successors time to reclaim the respect they had earned for their work.
Haenni, also president of FC Zürich Women, is a former national team player who played a major role in professionalising the domestic women’s game and professionalising the approach to development of women’s football far and wide.
The extent of her success was in maintaining support for her mission from Blatter in the face of scepticism from the then secretary-general Jerome Valcke.
Her last major achievement was in working to help make last October’s Women’s World Under-17 Cup in Jordan such a remarkable success, the first major women’s tournament in the Muslim world.
But she hinted at the stresses in discussing then with AIPS, the international sports journalists’ association, her campaign to see men’s clubs developing parallel competitive opportunities for women.
She said: “Club licensing is one of the projects FIFA is implementing with all confederations. It was a battle, a huge battle. But these clubs who want to participate in their highest continental competitions, like in Europe’s men’s Champions League, they have to have a women’s team.
“What’s still a reality in the women’s football world, is that it’s not where it should be.”
Haenni saw a clear distinction regarding women in football which is still lost on many officials and directors. She said it should be understood as inclusive of not only women playing football but also women working in football generally.
A statement on Haenni’s exit appeared to lay indirect responsibility at the door of Sarai Bareman, who arrived in Zurich late last year from the Oceania confederation after serving on Francois Carrard’s FIFA reform commission in 2015 (along with Infantino).
FIFA said: “In November last year, Sarai Bareman was appointed chief football officer. She heads the newly created Women’s Football Division and reports directly to FIFA deputy secretary-general Zvonimir Boban and to FIFA management.
“The new department is currently being restructured and organised (also personnel). This is directly linked to the overall strategy for the development of women’s football.”
Haenni and Cruz Blanco might reflect that they were granted, at least, equality in being despatched in the same instantaneous manner as the departing men.
In her own statement Haenni described FIFA as having “dismissed me . . . as soon as possible.”
She added: “I look back on 18 interesting, motivating, fascinating years in international women’s football. I have done my work and my activities with full commitment, conviction for the cause and with a lot of passion.
“For the future, I would like all sports organisations to make efforts to promote women’s sports and the representation of women in the decision-making committees and to make available adequate resources.”
Haenni has taken up a consultancy with the German sports agency Sportagon.
As for Cruz Blanco, her cv boasts “more than a decade of professional experience working in international environments and leading multimillion dollar projects cross-continents, with multicultural teams.
“My pathway entailed to meet and collaborate with world leaders, high-level government officials and NGOs . . . and addressing audiences in over 40 countries across the globe, through international conferences, seminars and multicultural events.”
At the conclusion of the first women’s leadership course last year Cruz Blanco told the ‘students’: “When you leave this room today and go back to your federations, think what you can achieve. This is just the beginning.”
For her – and Haenni – it was the beginning of the end.