The Irish FA celebrated the graduation of seven inspirational local women who completed a Female Football Leaders Programme on Saturday, 26th October 2013. The event, held at the Long Gallery in Parliament Buildings, Stormont, included an address from keynote speaker Karen Espelund, the Chair of the UEFA Women’s Football Committee and a member of the UEFA Executive Committee.

Keen to follow in the footsteps of the European and World governing bodies of football, the Irish FA developed the Female Football Leaders Programme as part of the SCORE 2 Project. Funded through the UEFA Hat Trick Women’s Football Development Programme, this ground-breaking initiative is the first of its kind to be developed and piloted by the Irish FA. The programme concentrates on improving the leadership competencies and confidence of women working locally in football.

Congratulating participants on their achievement, newly appointed Director of Football Development Michael Boyd adds:

“The IFA’s vision is to develop, promote and foster football for all in Northern Ireland. This initiative is both innovative and ground-breaking. I would like to congratulate all the participants, partners, UEFA and IFA Staff for making this happen. These inspirational and strong women are great role models for young people in the game and will go on to make vital contributions to their clubs and the local game. As a champion of Football For All I am delighted to support initiatives like this which empower change and are transforming the game here”.

Over the last twelve months, seven women from across Northern Ireland undertook the programme, which required completion of the ILM ‘Women Leading the Way’ course, delivered by the Training for Women Network, and further units on resilience, high impact conversations and board training, delivered by Advance Coaching. Sara Booth, the Irish FA Women’s Domestic Football Manager and programme organiser explains:

“We conceived this programme to address the lack of females within leadership positions in football and ultimately encourage more women to get involved in decision-making roles within their local football clubs. The programme has exceeded all expectations and we are really proud of the women who took part in the course.

“The confidence levels of the women have improved dramatically and the programme has influenced additional areas of their lives that we hadn’t anticipated. Two of our participants gained employment while undertaking the programme and Valerie Heron, Treasurer of Killyleagh Youth FC, secured a major grant for Killyleagh Youth Football Club”.

The absence of female leaders within key decision making roles in sport is well documented and many organisations are making conscious decisions to change this situation. Within football UEFA were the first to address the issue when they co-opted Karen Espelund, the former General Secretary of the Norwegian Football Association, on to their Executive Committee. Two years later Karen is an official member of the Committee and at the heart of UEFA decision-making processes.

FIFA followed a similar process and at the FIFA Congress in Mauritius in May the Burundi Football Association President Lydia Nsekera made history by becoming the first female to be elected onto the FIFA Executive Committee. In addition, FIFA also co-opted Moya Dodd (vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation) and Sonia Bien-Aime (Secretary General at Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association) to FIFA’s top table for one year.

To find out more details about applying for this training programme, please contact Sara Booth, the Irish FA Women’s Domestic Football Manager via email sbooth@IrishFA.com.