Girl power puts new shine and focus on sports leadership

Tusker FC Media Liaison Diana Yonah. [Courtesy]

There is a significant shift in gender dynamics in Kenya’s sports leadership and management realms if the number of women joining the male-dominated sports industry is anything to go by.

According to a report by Women in Sport titled Beyond 30 per cent Workplace Culture in Sport published in the Independent (2018) Newspaper, 40 per cent of women experience gender discrimination in the sports industry.

While many consider sports as a gendered institution, a few women have defied the odds to attain leadership and managerial positions in different sporting disciplines in the country.  

But the hardships and stereotypes women face in their attempt to join leadership and management are almost unfathomable. 

From football to athletics, rugby, volleyball and hockey, they have seen it all as they try to establish themselves and become part of key decision-makers in the world of sports.

Though majority of federations with a woman in top leadership have either relatively small participation base or are less popular, most women have slowly but surely started showing interest for both leadership and administration roles.

Save for Cricket Kenya’s former chairperson Jackie Janmohammed, popular federations like Football Kenya Federation (FKF), Athletics Kenya (AK), National Olympic Kenya (Noc-k),Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) and Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) have never been led by a woman since their establishment.

And even as former KVF Secretary-General Evans Wasike, who doubles up as a Human Resource practitioner in one of the state corporations, feels women in sport don’t get a fair deal in their careers progression, he still believes there is a chance for them to rise to the top. 

“It is unfortunate that we have never had a female chairperson since KVF’s inception. We have had very good volleyball players like Njeri (Onyango), Ann (Wahombe) and Rose (Wanjala) in the past who could have pushed it to the top-level leadership. They could have done well as leaders at the federation because of their managerial background,” Wasike told Standard Sports.

“However, we should look at competence as the major aspect of leadership in federations, not just because of popularity or they played the game before. For the purpose of good leadership, we need to have more competent officials.” 

Some women have really left a mark in their line of duty. Former hockey international Caroline Mugadi, Paula Lanco, Peris Mukoko and Wangui Kibe have all been directors at KRU. Susan Kamau is the Athletics Kenya Chief Executive Officer (CEO), while veteran journalist Elynah Shiveka is the Kenya Hockey Union, vice president.

Just like their rugby counterparts, women in football, athletics and volleyball management have left an imprint in their respective leadership and administrative roles.

Long-serving football administrator Doris Petra, who rose from an FKF sub-branch deputy Secretary-General to being elected as the vice president, is considered as an aspiration to many women.

It is the same situation with the immediate former Gor Mahia treasurer Sally Bolo, who is eyeing women’s representative seat in the upcoming FKF elections and the outspoken former Gor Mahia Organising Secretary Judith ‘Nyangi’ Anyango.

Former Kenyan international Doreen Nabwire works as FKF’s Women Development Officer/Competition Officer and Kefwa’s (Kenya Footballers Welfare Association) Administrative Manager.

Mlango Kubwa MCA Patricia Mutheu is a board member at Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), while Linda Ambiyo is the second CEO at Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Kariobangi Sharks after Quinter Odongo.

Former Kenyan international Terry Ouko, Diana Yonah and Bernadette Aseyo are also in football administration.

Ouko is Kefwa’s communication’s manager, Yonah is Tusker’s Media liaison officer while Aseyo is a Physiotherapist at Kakamega Homeboyz.

Athletics Kenya has five women in their national executive. Fatma Awale is AK’s second vice president, while Susan Kamau is the acting CEO. Elizabeth Keitany is a member, Jacinta Odhiambo (Co-opted member), while former world 3,000m steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos sits in the committee as an athletes’ representative.

In volleyball, Mududa Waweru is one of the two deputies at Kenya Volleyball Federation, with former Kenyan international Catherine Mabwi and Emily Mbotela serving as deputy Secretary General and National Committee member respectively.

Long-serving Kenya Prisons chairperson Rose Muturi was succeeded as KVF vice president by Mududa Waweru during the last election.

Tennis Kenya’s Secretary General Wanjiru Mbugua has professionalised the individual sport, quietly following in the footsteps of former president Purvi Rawal.

We take close look at some of women in sports leadership/administration.

Name: Linda Ambiyo

Club/Association: Kariobangi Sharks

Position: CEO

Linda Ambiyo, 31, was at the helm of Kariobangi Sharks when they won their first-ever domestic cup in 2018 before registering a historic 4-3 victory via penalties against Premier League side Everton at Kasarani Stadium in a Sportpesa Cup fixture.

Having succeeded another woman (Quinter Odongo) in the same position in 2017, Ambiyo, who is currently pursuing her Masters in Business Administration at the University of Nairobi and Diploma in Sports at Kenyatta University, is eager to make Sharks one of the most financially stable clubs in the country.

“If you have passion for something, then it will drive you to success. It’s a male-dominated game, but once someone realises the passion you have for the game, then it becomes a bit easy for them to respect you and be able to work with you in all aspects,” said Ambiyo.

“It has not been a smooth ride, but so far, everything has been running well. We’ve exported three players so far and we look forward to build on that as a revenue model for the club. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far, but my biggest ambition is to see this club financially stable.”

Name: Doris Petra

Club/Association: FKF

Position: Vice President

The long-serving football administrator has never looked back since switching from netball to the beautiful game.

Petra has defied many odds, rising from an FKF branch deputy Secretary to become the vice president at the federation’s national office.

The mother of six has worked under different regimes, but it’s in the current office that she has strongly cemented herself in leadership.

“You must love what you are doing. You must have discipline and self-respect. You must also be very committed,” Petra told The Nairobian in a past interview.

“At first sight, most men would be ready to prey on you, so you must dispel that by the way you behave when with them. Your body language must always be professional so that men are not confused.”

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) deputy president Doris Petra. [Photo/Elvis Ogina]

Name: Sally Bolo

Club/Association: Gor Mahia

Position: Former Gor Mahia Treasurer/FKF aspirant

Sally Bolo has proven to be a woman of steel if her past experience as Gor Mahia’s treasurer is anything to by.

The former Moi University student’s vice-chairperson has not lost focus when dealing with the over-demanding K’Ogalo fans when it comes to money matters.

Bolo’s principles and high-handedness in treatment of affairs in the crucial department at Gor Mahia earned her friends and foes in equal measure.

But she believes the experience she got while at K’Ogalo has prepared her for the women representative seat in the upcoming Football Kenya Federation (FKF) elections.

“Dealing with male fans has taught me that efficient leadership yields respect. I don’t have to laud my position over them, by serving the club well and being at the forefront of the club’s operations, I rightfully earned my seat at the table and the male fans, players and colleagues recognised that,” said Bolo.

“But the perception that working while surrounded by male colleagues would be treacherous is actually not true. I have been fortunate to have learnt a lot from my elder brother (Enosh), colleagues, many of whom have become mentors and biggest supporters in my quest for leadership at the helm of women football in this country.

“I have not yet achieved everything I would like in my role as a woman and as a passionate mentor for young girls, there is definitely still a lot to be done.”

Former Gor Mahia Treasurer Sally Bolo. [Courtesy]

Name: Doreen Nabwire

Club/Association: FKF/Kefwa

Position: Women Development Officer/Competition Officer/Administrative Manager

The former Kenyan international has perfectly transitioned into football management after a relatively distinguished playing career.

Nabwire, who was the first Kenyan woman to play professional football, serves as FKF’s Women Development Officer/Competition Officer and Kefwa’s (Kenya Footballers Welfare Association) Administrative Manager.

The former Werder Bremen striker is also an accredited Fifa/Caf instructor and coach. 

“As a pioneer of women’s football and coach, my dream is to see other girls excel and achieve more than I did,” Nabwire said.

Former international football star Doreen Nabwire. [PHOTO; WILBERFORCE OKWIRI]

Name: Judith ‘Nyangi’ Anyango

Club/Association: Gor Mahia

Position: Former Gor Mahia Organising Secretary

The immediate former Gor Mahia Organising Secretary was locked out of the race for the honourary treasurer’s post in last month’s club elections due to lack of a university degree, which was a minimum requirement for all candidates.

Her outspoken nature and controversial way of handling issues have made her become a household name in the Kenyan football circles.

‘Nyangi’, as she is popularly known, is a perfect mobiliser, go-getter, fearless and handles matters as they come. She is literally the iron lady of Kenyan football.

Name: Terry Ouko

Club/Association: Kefwa

Position: Communications Manager

The current Kenya Footballers Welfare Association’s (Kefwa) Communications Manager is without a doubt a true reflection of the strength of a woman. 

From working as a data clerk (on night shift) at G4s, to a communications consultant at GIZ during the day as she generates content for a local sports website before dashing for national team Harambee Starlets training, Terry Ouko has seen it all.

While many women have found it difficult to break the glass ceiling, the mother of one, who is also a co-founder of Inspire Soka Academy and Tuungane CBO in Kilifi, has leveraged on the beautiful game to uplift her life.

“It is all about passion for the game because I can’t say there is money in women football. I have actually been strategic thus using football as a stepping stone; most of my income-generating activities have been linked to football,” said Ouko.

“I feel there is a lot of women footballers can leverage on and not just depend on the allowances and salaries because we still have a long way to go in regards to advocating for equal pay for both men and women.”

The St Paul’s University alumnus added: “At a certain point, you have to be a mother, a sister... so many people depend on you. Therefore, if you don’t have a backup plan, it all crumbles. Basically, it’s all about being smart. I’m not among the best women footballers around but I’m very smart.”

“There are a lot of opportunities outside there and we must go for them. I used to do a night shift at G4s in 2016 then work at two places during the day and still show up for the national team training session later in the evening.”

Name: Diana Yonah

Club/Association: Tusker

Position: Media Liaison Officer

The University of Nairobi and Nelson Mandela University alumnus recently became the first Kenyan woman in sports to be awarded the coveted Fifa Masters scholarship (International Masters in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport).

The 26-year-old journalist, who is expected to attend a 10-month course in the United Kingdom, Italy and Switzerland from October 6, departs today for the learning experience. But it has not been all rosy for the mother of one since venturing into football administration at Tusker in 2014.

“The African traditions have really made it difficult for women to succeed in sports. The biggest challenge has been that not everybody appreciates our presence in the game but we have to cement our position and that’s why I’m going for all these course, we need to be a mile higher,” said Diana Yonah.

Tusker FC's Liaison Diana Yonah.

Name: Bernadette Aseyo

Club/Association: Kakamega Homeboyz

Position: Physiotherapist

Bernadette Aseyo admits that working as a physiotherapist for a men’s football team like Kakamega Homeboyz is not for the faint-hearted.

“It’s quite a challenge because with the current society, most men have embraced sports and women have been left behind. Many people are not sure of our potential, they think we are ‘loose’ and we can’t cope up with the pressure the team offers. But I’ve proved them wrong by upping my game and setting my boundaries,” said Aseyo.