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May 2, 2014

UEFA coaches women to be leaders

GENEVA -- The European soccer governing body is coaching women and people from ethnic minorities to join federations in the future.

Michel Platini
UEFA president Michel Platini stressed his support for women in leadership roles.

A first women's seminar with 24 students launched the training and mentoring programs this week at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

"Diversity always produces the best results, of course," said course leader Karen Espelund, who joined the UEFA executive committee in 2011 after running the Norway Football Federation.

UEFA president Michel Platini challenged his 54 member federations at their congress in March to be less dominated by white men.

"When I look at us all gathered here today, I would say that there is still a lot of work to do," Platini told delegates to UEFA's annual congress on March 27 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

No woman has ever been elected president of a European soccer body, and only Estonia and France currently have an appointed female chief executive.

"This course means it improves the skills of the individual women, but there must also be structural changes in the leadership of its associations," Espelund told The Associated Press. "Football bodies are discussing their governance and this should be part of it."

FIFA has added three women to what is a 27-person executive committee in reforms ordered in 2011 by its president Sepp Blatter after scandals implicated his all-male board.

Espelund believes UEFA's program students can be promoted on merit.

"It's about leadership in the end, and working with people and motivating people," she said.

As the Georgia federation's deputy general secretary, Tamara Chichinadze is helping organize the 2015 UEFA Super Cup, which will pair next season's Champions League and Europa League winners in Tbilisi. Her appointed UEFA mentor is former secretary general David Taylor.

"Football is still a man's world," she said. "Several years ago, nobody could imagine so many women would be in GFF or the (organizing committee) of the Super Cup."

Isabel Hochstoeger is head of women's soccer at the Austria Football Association and was appointed to its board last year at age 31.

"I thought, 'What a great opportunity,'" Hochstoeger said of the UEFA leadership program, which assigned her European Championship tournament director Martin Kallen as mentor.

"When I was a player, I was just focused on playing football and, for sure, sometimes we weren't happy. We got (uniforms) from the men's team from 10 years ago."

Now, Hochstoeger praises her more progressive federation. It urged her to become a UEFA delegate overseeing women's competition matches.

Her ability on the field was useful in the match played this week by course delegates.

"Some have 100 international caps and some were playing for the first time," said Espelund, a former Norway international. "We need all types of competence."

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