C: Do you see any similarities between your roles with the Afghanistan national team and CONIFA?
KL: “For women across the world there are unique challenges. In my opinion, this is where the men’s and women’s game differ. Culturally, men just get to play, roll the ball out and get on with it. In the women’s game, we would be ignorant to think it is so easy.
“The cultural, social, economic, physical and mental challenges women face are far beyond the depths of the men’s game. Thus, the way we view the development and growth of the sport needs to be pursued on a more micro level. No one can just barrel into a country and tell them how to run football; the women’s game doesn’t work this way. It takes time to understand the barriers and challenges, and then work within them to challenge social norms and develop mindsets. I am a big believer that when the value of the women’s game is established, opportunity can grow. It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.
“I think every challenge we faced with Afghanistan, with my work in Hong Kong, in the inner cities of the USA, through China… and touch-points in Singapore, Jordan, the Philippines and Australia has shown me that, no matter how developed or underdeveloped the women’s game is, it is a personal journey and we need to work hard to educate, advocate and empower through a value system unique to the location we are working in. We need to be consistently working with the local community to build programmes they can be proud of, build their own unique women’s football culture!”
C: Do you have any goals for your role with CONIFA already in mind? Are there any plans you can share with us?
KL: “In my time working with Afghanistan, I have developed strong feelings about the importance of global competitions to build the women’s game. It needs to be competitive in order to inspire future generations, develop players and unite the support of the people. There has to be value and merit in the game itself to inspire people to invest. We cannot wait for investment and then build women’s football – we have to make the magic happen and get teams competing, so they have something of value to train for, prepare for, invest in and – ultimately – fight for.
“The women’s game cannot be a ‘tick-the-box’ activity, where member associations are credited for just having a women’s team. We need member associations who want to develop the game and improve the quality of the game from grassroots all the way through to national teams.
“In the FIFA model, the top teams have something to aspire to, but the bottom teams get left behind with a lack of advocacy to improve their development. In CONIFA, my number-one goal will be to develop a competition structure that builds the game for all. We will aim to get a Women’s Football Cup off the ground in the coming year or two, and will work closely with members to create opportunities for consistent competitions to drive value, networking and educational opportunities.
“I am a big believer in the idea that the game grows when we work together. The CONIFA women’s board will work to utilise every opportunity we have with our members to open lines of communication and networking to ensure we stay united on the push to develop the game. No women’s team will be left standing alone, feeling they have to figure things out in isolation. There are brilliant advocates of the game who have developed great programmes out of nothing, and that is at the heart of women’s football. We unite with nothing and create an impact. I hope to drive that same mentality in CONIFA, and support the progress, hopes and dreams of the member associations.
C: Is there anything else you would like to say to the many CONIFA members and followers out there?
KL: “It is with great humility that I join the CONIFA family. I hope that you all feel you can reach out and voice any concerns, ideas or inspiration you have. I’m eager to work alongside you to develop programmes, projects and partnerships that bring pride to you and your associations.
“This is a unique organisation with a unique mission, and in 2019 it’s a breath of fresh air to pursue the future together!
“If you’re part of the CONIFA family as a member, fan, follower, supporter, or seeing us for the first time – let’s do great things together!”
”Welcome to CONIFA, Kelly! We all look forward to working with you!