“You Can See It, Now What?” – Lessons from 11 Female Leaders in Football

· by World Football Summit

Vision Meets Action in Football Leadership

As the world of football evolves, the rise of female leadership in sports is not just a trend but a transformative force. This is something we truly believe in at World Football Summit, and 2023 has been a year in which we have tried to take a step forward and organized several initiatives aimed at celebrating “Female Leadership in The Football Industry,” such as an exclusive networking cocktail for female leaders or special episodes on the World Football Summit Podcast.

From the voices of exceptional women in the football industry, we draw lessons that are not just inspiring but also deeply practical, after having the opportunity to have great conversations with some remarkable female leaders in football on The World Football Summit Podcast. This article seeks to summarize some of the lessons from the “women in the arena” that are driving the industry forward, although it does not do justice to the amount of knowledge and insights each of these women shared on their episode of the podcast.

Arianna Criscione: From Visibility to Accessibility

Former pro player, investor, and entrepreneur Arianna Criscione reminds us that 2022 was the year women’s football became visible and now the priority must be ensuring accessibility. Her sentence, “You can see it, now what?” is a call to action to move beyond visibility to create real opportunities for girls in football.

Her advice for female leaders in football? Do not be afraid to make your presence felt in the room. Ask questions, share your opinions, and let your voice be heard. Remember, the only stupid question is the one left unasked.

A prime example of someone who has made herself heard to grow a football league was our next guest…

Dr. Victoria Ross: Every experience counts

President of Unafut, and the only woman leading a men’s professional football league in the world, Dr. Ross’s strategy to grow the league and achieve fantastic results revolves around Sport, Social, and Commercial pillars. She emphasizes the power of a strong brand to help grow any football property.

From a leadership perspective two powerful lessons to remember:

  • Try to get value from every professional experience, even if it is not in football. Believe the dots will, at some point, connect.
  • The key traits Dr. Ross sees in the best leaders are resilience, being able to understand the difference between the “personal vs not personal” aspects of life, identifying what is truly important, and of course, hard work, which is non-negotiable.

Hard work, is not only non-negotiable, but also a self-owned decision…

Agustina de Giovanni: Embracing the Process

CEO and Founder at ADG Mental Performance, Agustina highlights the importance of effort as a personal choice. Her “BFS framework” (body language, focus, self-talk) is a straightforward approach to enhancing mental performance among aspiring sports industry leaders.

Remember though, that achieving peak mental performance is a life-long journey, and being vulnerable is part of the journey. Ultimately, the answer though lies within you in terms of “how” you will tackle that feeling. As Seth Godin usually says, “This is not about avoiding the fear, you have to dance with it.”

And as our next guest reminded us it’s not about the destination…

Asli E. Koç: Love the Journey

Manager at İstanbul Başakşehir F.K., Asli E. Koç highlights the importance of aligning fan experiences with club values. She also reminds us that “the journey is the reward,” emphasizing hard work and perseverance.

And her words of encouragement for other female leaders in football are worth remembering:

“If anyone tells you that you can’t do it, just do it twice. And remember to take pictures!”

That journey will have its set of challenges to overcome…

Erika Montemor: Growth over Perfection

In what was a truly inspiring conversation, FIFA’s Head of Player Status, Erika Montemor, advises against the pressure of being a ‘finished product’. She urges leaders to embrace growth and to be bold in asking for what they want.

More importantly, be empathic; we all face different challenges that may prevent us from being our best selves.

Most of all, I remember the analogy of the door we drew up together. Once you visualize the objective (the door), you will need to identify the skills you need, the mentors that will put you in a position to get to the door, and the sponsors that will effectively help you open the door.

Part of that growth is being able to position yourself in a way that you are exposed to many learning experiences.

Preeti Shetty: Inclusivity is an act

CEO of Upshot, Co-founder at Valeur, and Director at Brentford FC (among many other things), Preeti Shetty, believes that data should simplify decisions, not complicate them, and that everyone within an organization should own the data.

Her perspective on diversity – “Diversity is a fact, Inclusivity is an act” – is a powerful reminder of the need for active inclusivity in leadership positions.


And diversity, without a doubt, is a sound business decision. Patricia would agree.

Patricia Peiró: Context and Convenience for better fan engagement

As CSO at Telecoming, Patricia Peiró emphasizes the priceless value of “convenience” and “context” in fan engagement. Her take on data – “The more you ask of the user or the fan, the less you will get” – was enlightening and is key to understanding that the quality of the data is determined by the quality of the question.

Finally, two great quotes from the conversation:

  • Emotional Intelligence is more important than Artificial Intelligence.
  • “Diversity means wealth,” always keeping in mind that talent should triumph over everything else.

And “quality” is a concept we should not only apply to data management, but to social impact as well…

Romaney Pinnock: Creating Quality Impact

Romaney Pinnock, Head of Women’s Football at the South African Football Association and Founder of Badgers Academy, values the quality of impact over scaling quickly and helps us remember the value that football can teach us: It’s such a great tool to focus on kindness, respect, inclusivity.”

Persistence has been at the core of all that she has been able to achieve and she encourages sharing one’s voice to grow confidence and stay true to the mission…

And the mission is really built by being in the arena…

Nicole Allison: Growing the women’s game “from the arena.”

Owner of Worcester City FC, Nicole Allison sees success in inspiring a love for women’s football across the entire community and using it as a tool for social change. Her clarity of purpose and vision sets a benchmark for those looking to understand what it takes to grow women’s football “from inside.”

The world “evolving,” is a powerful way of defining a career. Her quote still resonates with me, and I am sure it could be the same for you:

“I think if you are open-minded, and you’re open to evolving, and you’re adaptable, and you’re flexible, then you can make the best out of situations even if even the most challenging ones.”

Remember the community will be key to creating values which to adhere to, and then will be the foundation for growth.

Fatma Samoura wins World Football Summit Award

Ashlee Fontes-Comber: The value of being “locally” focused in a global sport

Founder of the Tallahassee Reckoning, Ashlee Fontest-Comber reminds us that football is a local sport, even if it is followed by millions around the world. It is the community and talent around a club that helps build it from the ground up and scale from there.

From a leadership perspective, she emphasizes that true success takes years of work.

Ashlee is one of those leaders who is helping build the game from the ground up, with a deep focus on sustainability.

But as in football, the quest for more female leaders in football must be a team sport. Unity is what will help drive the industry forward…

Rocío Ruiz- Berdejo: A United Approach to Sustainability

At Real Betis, Rocío Ruiz- Berdejo focuses on sustainability as a collaborative effort. Their journey started with small initiatives, learning and growing to become a reference in sustainability.

And look at what they have become today…one of the best examples of what being a sustainable football club really means. And it was a moment of great pride when we were able to help Real Betis organize the World’s Most Inclusive Match in February 2023, helping break a World Record.

Your Role in This Journey

As we pave the way for future female leaders in football, I hope some of these lessons help be your guide. Embrace resilience, break barriers, and remember: in the world of football, your actions define the game.

If you are looking to network with other female industry leaders and grow your career learn more about what we do at World Football Summit.

Let’s build a football industry we are proud to champion…together.