New CONCACAF Exec Wants To See Growth Of Women's Football In Caribbean Region
Turks and Caicos Islands FA General Secretary SONIA BIEN-AIME was recently named to CONCACAF’s exec committee. Bien-Aime, who is the first woman to join the committee, is one of three women on FIFA’s exec committee and holds an exec post on the Caribbean Football Union. She spoke with SBD Global about the challenges of her new position and her goals for women’s football in the region.
Q: What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge in your new role as a member of the CONCACAF exec committee?
Sonia Bien-Aime: Women’s football in our region -- not necessarily CONCACAF because we have Canada and the U.S.A. who have very good programs from the ground up -- but we have lots of challenges [for women's football] in our Caribbean region. So, I think first and foremost, one of my biggest challenges will be identifying what our problem is in the region, and how we can boost competition and participation.
Q: What are some goals you’d like to achieve as part of CONCACAF?
Bien-Aime: My main goal is to basically be an impetus for women's and girls' football in the region. At the end of the day, I want to make meaningful contributions to the development of the game, especially in the area of women’s football and to actually accomplish things. I’d like to see more girls in youth competitions. I’d also like to see more girls in youth football in the schools, perhaps a senior women’s competition in the region, education and scholarship opportunities to players, just to name a few. I’d like to see more opportunities to qualify our female coaches and referees. And also, to find ways of getting more partnership or sponsorship opportunities for the women’s game. When you think of it, there’s a whole lot that we need to do at this point. I can safely say that CONCACAF is well on its way, and I’m creating a part for all of that.
Q: What are your thoughts on CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb’s proposal for a Caribbean Pro League?
Bien-Aime: I think it’s a fantastic idea. Honestly, because it would be something very big for our region, something even for our individual leagues within our country. It’s something for them to aspire to. I’m sure it’s something that CONCACAF is not going to jump in head first. They’re doing consultations and everything that they need in order to insure that it is run properly and is sustainable. But I think it’s a fantastic idea.
Q: You’re part of the organizing committee for the 2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. There have been some concerns raised regarding the artificial turf stadiums. What are your thoughts on the use of artificial turf for the games?
Bien-Aime: I am a football player, but during my years of playing experience I must be honest, I haven’t experienced much playing on the artificial turf fields. I play on the artificial turf field for recreational football. In my opinion I prefer the natural grass field, but I can’t really say if there is a vast difference. So that is why I rely on the experts to advise in that area.
Q: What are some challenges that come with organizing int’l sporting events?
Bien-Aime: There are a number of challenges. First of all, with my appointment to the organizing committee, which makes it kind of easy for me in the seat that I’m sitting in, is that these committees comprise a number of people from various expertise. We have the LOC; the country’s organizing committee, and amongst those committees are a number of people with a wealth of experience in organizing competitions. We have people on the committee from the FIFA competitions department; media, marketing and referees. The challenges can be faced from one area to the other. Maybe in terms of the field, like you just mentioned, not being suitable enough or not being the field of preference for competition. We have experts in this area to advise on that. There are a number of challenges that come up in organizing major competitions from all different areas, but luckily, we have this committee where it’s inclusive to a number of different people with various expertise in the area so that at the end of the day we can properly organize and plan for a successful competition.
Q: Did you always see yourself becoming so involved in sports administration?
Bien-Aime: I’ve always been involved in sports administration because, for a number of years, I’ve served as my country's chairman of the sports commission board. That is the board responsible for our sports department here in the Turks and Caicos. But if I was to say to you that I had envisaged me being on the FIFA executive committee, especially at this stage in my life, I’d be telling a lie. I never envisaged that. But, I’m a hard worker and I pride myself in that. I guess sometimes with hard work there comes reward. I can’t say that I would have never seen myself on the CONCACAF or the CFU committee, but I think it’s pretty early in my life for those expectations, so I’m humbled and really enthusiastic about it all.
Q: You are one of only three women on the FIFA exec committee and are the first woman to be appointed to the CONCACAF exec committee. What steps do you think need to be made in order to help close the gender gap present in the sports world?
Bien-Aime: I think steps are already being taken at this point. You just said it. They’ve already opened the door. It will be a gradual process, but I’m going to applaud FIFA and CONCACAF for opening the door. They are saying to the world that this is an organization that’s inclusive to all, even females. It may start in the smaller numbers, but at least it’s a start. I think work is being done to close that gender gap.