NewsNorth AfricaFootball breaks down barriers - Lydia Nsekera


Posted on Friday, 08 November 2013 16:36

Football breaks down barriers - Lydia Nsekera

Lydia Nsekera, FIFA Executive committee memberThe burundian federation president now sitting at football's high table as FIFA Executive committee member may well be FIFA's greatest asset.

The president of the Fédération de Football du Burundi jogs out onto the field of the national stadium in Bujumbura and briskly shakes the hands of each of the 22 boys lined up ahead of the final of the Coca Cola Under-17 Cup.

She offers words of encouragement, poses for photos, then heads back to the stands to enjoy the match.

We had three meals a day. The first time I went into the [poorer] suburbs was in 2000. There the people only eat once a day

Lydia Nsekera is first and foremost a fan. "I started going to football with my father. He was the president of a football club in 1977. I used to accompany him to the stadium and I became a supporter," she says.

But she is also one of the most influential women in football today.

Nsekera is the only female head of a national federation – and in Burundi of all places, where, she admits, "the place of the woman is always behind the man."

She also made history in May when she was elected as the first woman to serve on the sport's international governing body, the FIFA Executive Committee.

Aware of the significance from a gender perspective, Nsekera is even more aware of what it means for Burundi.

"I was very, very happy to think that my country, even though it is one of the poorest in the world, has men and women who have the capacity to succeed at the world level," she says.

To those who have criticised her election, complaining that she was not the strongest candidate or that she was only chosen because she is African, Nsekera says: "The people who say this are not people in the football world.

"When FIFA said that they wanted a woman on the Executive Committee, everybody thought of me because I have been the president of a federation. I speak with the supporters and the players, and I know about management and accountability."

Fixing the Federation

When Nsekera took over the top job in Burundian football in 2004, the federation was in crisis.

The problems began 10 years earlier, at the beginning of a civil conflict that pitted Tutsi against Hutu.

"There was no respect for the regulations. People were taking money, and they were not reporting what they were doing with it. Everybody was unhappy," she explains.

She quickly turned things round, strengthening accountability, laying down competition rules and removing the power to transfer players from the hands of the federation president.

Nsekera says that the game can help to break down social barriers and to ease ethnic tensions.

"I was born and lived in the hills that you can see here," she says, pointing to one of Bujumbura's wealthiest neighbourhoods.

"We had three meals a day. The first time I went into the [poorer] suburbs was in 2000. There the people only eat once a day. You have to go there to know these people and understand their situation.

"Football is bringing people together – different ages, different social conditions, different economic conditions and different ethnic groups." ●

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