The world’s most powerful single sporting body, FIFA, this week named the CEO of the 2023 Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
- The International Ski Federation has only had male presidents in its almost 100-year history
- Sarah Lewis served as FIS secretary general before being removed from the role last year
- Lewis wants to provide “capable and inclusive” leadership to the role should she be elected
It is New Zealand administrator Dave Beeche.
He has the credentials, certainly, but it does seem out of place considering FIFA’s stated vision and “dedicated strategy to develop women’s football” — presumably that means more than just registered players.
Sporting contests are now recognised for having two components — women’s competition and men’s competition.
But sharing the pitch is a whole lot easier, it seems, than sharing the boardroom and halls of power.
FIFA’s winter sports equivalent is the International Ski Federation (FIS), which governs more than half the events on the schedule at every Winter Olympics.
The organisation also sees itself as the link between the sport and the industry, from family recreation on the snowfields to tourism and the broader business of skiing.
This week FIS faces its own reckoning … a woman — Great Britain’s Sarah Lewis — is standing for election as president.
When it comes to running the show, FIS does not like change.
In its almost 100-year history there have been only four people in charge, all of them men — two Swiss, a Norwegian and a Swede.
In a remarkable act of timing, when the FIS board got wind last October that Lewis was considering putting herself forward for the role of president, the woman they had complete faith in for the past 23 years running the organisation was sacked as secretary-general.
Their original statement said they had “a complete loss of confidence in her”. That was later withdrawn and a new statement appeared without that wording.
Ever since, there has been no justification or reasons given as to why Lewis was shown the door.
Lewis said she believed it was her consideration of running for president that spooked the FIS board.
“Clearly, I can only assume that that is what’s behind it,” she told ABC Sport.
“I wasn’t present at the meeting where the decision was taken, or informed about it in advance, or given an opportunity to really present any form of case when [there was] a discussion about my position.
“But it’s in hindsight now.
“What happened at the time was of course humiliating, especially the way it was communicated.
Not that it has deterred Lewis, who represented Great Britain as an alpine skier at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
“I don’t have any grudges — at all — for me, the slate is clean, the snow has melted, as I’ve said many times,” she said.
Lewis said her consideration to stand for the FIS presidency was not a secret at the time she was sacked because “many people had approached me”.
Lewis’s bid attracts support
Leadership requires many skills, which are often viewed differently through the gender prism.
“There’s a very interesting Harvard Business School study that says as a woman it’s very hard to be respected and liked, which isn’t the case with men,” she said.
“For me, it was very important to be respected, to do the right job for the right reasons for the sport.
“I was very, very honoured when it came to being 24/7 — what you would call a pace-setting leader.
“As a woman, that’s regarded as perhaps overpowering and bossy, whereas for a man that would be regarded as strong leadership.”
As FIS secretary-general it often fell to Lewis to be “hard-nosed and take tough decisions”.
“Whilst I’m of course very proud to be a woman and really want to be a role model for many, nevertheless I’m aware there are different expectations, especially from a certain generation,” she said.
“Within the leadership throughout a lot of society, and a lot of international sports federations, they come from a generation that everybody has certain pigeonholes that they go in and for a woman to be a leader is still fairly unusual.”
Why then would she want the role?
“I’ve had such significant widespread support to do so because I really embody all of the qualities required to be able to be a really capable and inclusive leader,” Lewis said.
“I really feel I have this responsibility to pursue [the role].
“But also when it comes to women in leadership positions there are too few — and there are plenty that are capable, but it’s having the courage, the confidence, also the persons to encourage you to say, ‘yes, you can, of course you can, you’re the right person’.
“And whilst there are others who are fairly adamant that they don’t want me to fulfil that role … there are others who do want me to.
“Extremely meaningful, important, count-for-a-lot, independent persons — who say it as it is.
“I have no other agenda.”
Others, though, still might.