New Zealander Sarai Bareman has been appointed as FIFA’s chief women’s football officer, the most powerful role in women’s soccer.
From next week, the former Samoan international will officially lead the newly created Women’s Football Division as part of FIFA’s new management board.
A 12-member reform committee, of which Bareman was the only woman, decided to create a women’s football division as a result of their 2016 findings. The new division will focus on competitions, development and governance and leadership for women in FIFA’s member countries. Bareman says her role within the organisation is to come up with a strategy on how to make an impact and improve on all of those areas.
“As part of the reform, it was determined that women’s representation does create a more effective decision making body. It leads to better decisions, and many studies show that the performance of companies is increased and improved when there are more women, so that was very clearly agreed to and identified as part of the reform.”
One of Bareman's aims is to increase participation in women’s football at grassroots by supporting member countries and member associations to attract girls to their sport from a young age.
“For me women’s football represents, within FIFA, the biggest growth opportunity in terms of participation, but also in terms of commercialisation and revenue generation… we need to get to the same level as the men’s but it does start at the grass roots level.”
She says women’s participation in the higher tier football countries is improving, but there is still a way to go. She recognises that encouraging participation in countries where women are not allowed to play any sport due to cultural and traditional barriers is going to be one of the hardest challenges for the Women’s Football Division.
“I think what is important to me, having come up through the Pacific region is that there is not a one size fits all tool that we can use. We really need to know and understand the situation within each country and tailor our programmes and our support to that particular situation.”
Ensuring that female players are paid as much as their male counterparts is high on the list of priorities for the newly-created division. Bareman says countries have been proactive in setting up women’s professional leagues but they are often not financially sustainable for more than two or three seasons.
“Something that we need to do from FIFA’s level is increase the marketability and the commercial viability of women’s football as a whole and I think that is what will lend to their fight [for pay parity].”
Bareman is familiar with the barriers that women face when trying to enter a male-dominated space, both on the field and off. She was on the receiving end of gender discrimination in Samoa, where she was the CEO of the Samoan Football Association.
Bareman says her authority and her input was often questioned purely because of her gender. But it was in that same environment that her passion for the sport grew, and she was able to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one.
“I was very, very lucky to see in Samoa the impact that football can have as a tool for community for villages, for children and for schools to improve their life and to help tackle the issues that they face. Seeing that, a passion for it grew within me. Because of that passion I was able to take all of that negativity that I have faced and turn them into fuel.”