Why can't Isha Johansen be FIFA's first female president?

Why can't a woman be FIFA president?
By Desmond Kane via Reuters

17/11/2015 at 18:26Updated 18/11/2015 at 10:10

Touted as the possible first female leader of FIFA, Sierra Leone's Isha Johansen said the time was not right for her to aim for the top job but she would not rule out a shot at the presidency in the future.

FIFA was thrown into turmoil in May by US indictments of 14 football officials for alleged corruption while president Sepp Blatter has been suspended ahead of February elections when five candidates will vie for the leadership and to clean up the game.

Johansen, 51, president of the Sierra Leone Football Association, is one of only a handful of women to ever head football associations among FIFA's 209 member countries.

She said it was a shame no women were in the running for the FIFA presidency next year, but she said this could change in the future as women took a greater role in the sport.

"If I can successfully accomplish the things I want to do I can see no reason why I would not want to go for the top job eventually," Johansen said in an interview on Tuesday.

"Women definitely should try to aspire to high places...but I was too new in my role to consider this now," she added, speaking on the sidelines of the Trust Women conference on women's rights run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Studies have repeatedly shown that increasing the percentage of women on corporate boards can improve financial performance, corporate social responsibility, and increase the number of women in other high-level positions.

Johansen said she had not set out for a career in football but fell into the role as the daughter of a professional banker who co-founded one of Sierra Leone's most famous clubs, East End Lions FC, and with two sports mad brothers.

She is now owner and CEO of Sierra Leone National Premier League club, her country's top professional football league.

She is also the founder of football club FC Johansen that she set up as a humanitarian project in 2004 to inspire young footballers and is now in the premier league.

Johansen said the success of the side gave her the confidence to run for president of the Sierra Leone Football Association in 2013, winning the post and vowing to bring discipline, sanity and integrity to football in her country.

"(Football) was never a career option," Johansen said. "I didn't see myself coming and a lot of people didn't see me coming ... and those that did thought it was a big joke."

Over the years she has faced verbal and physical abuse for taking such a high-profile role in a sport dominated by men and in a country where sexism is rife. Her 18-year-old son has had to endure similar abuse on social media, she said.

But Johansen said this had not deterred her from her task of leading football in Sierra Leone where she has tried to tackle mismanagement and corruption head on.

"Sexism plays a large part, but it is good governance that I am driving and it makes it hard work being a woman," she said.

Johansen said she hoped getting more women into leadership roles in public and private sectors would inspire a new generation of women and that she personally would be a role model for other women to go into football administration.

"The power of football to break barriers is enormous," she said. "We have to try to elevate our young girls to a status both mentally and physically through the power of football."


Studying her background in business, it is difficult to understand why Johansen should not be among the candidates for the FIFA presidency, and it is difficult to agree with her assertion that she should not be a viable option to succeed Sepp Blatter in the position in the forthcoming elections. It is not like she has a hard act to follow in succeeding the present lot.

As long as the candidate has the good of football at heart, and has the willingness, desire and right business credentials to help clean up such a soiled organisation, it does not really matter if a man or woman is president of FIFA. In a male-dominated environment, it is slighty depressing that no woman is among the candidates, and helping to address the ongoing of issue sexism within such a structure is an obvious goal. Perhaps in future times, Johansen may yet be the first woman to lead world football's governing body.