Abridging several existing gender barriers, women are presently emerging as leaders in various fields. They are globally eliminating gender-based stereotypes by setting gender-neutral affirmations across sectors such as sports, business, and many more. One such prime contributor towards omitting gender barriers within the sports industry is Mariam Mell’Osiime Mpaata (Founder and CEO), who forged her dreams and inspirations of sports and football into reality by establishing the Afrika Sports Foundation Center in Uganda.
Driven by personal encounters, Mariam established a football academy back in 2008 while living in Kenya, this enabled her son and other young children to play football. Throughout the twelve years of football development, she forged various initiatives including a football academy, an amateur girls and women’s soccer club – Soccer Divas Club, and the annual tournament for schools and community teams- the Watoto Africa Soccer awards. Although the initiatives discovered abundant talent, the team lacked infrastructures along with sports education centers. Contemplating the influence of sports empowerment and its benefits to the individuals as well as the sports industry, Mariam discovered the possibilities of propagating sports education through the passion and acquired knowledge of the team. As a threshold of filling the sports education gap, Mariam established the Afrika Sports Foundation Center in Uganda—providing sports excellence by combining passion and sports education.
During a recent conversation with Mirror Review, Mariam briefed us about the facilities provided by the foundation and shared insights into her leadership journey. Following are some of the snippets from the profound conversation:
What is the mission of Afrika Sports Foundation Center that makes it distinctive in the industry?
Our mission is to use sports education as a vehicle for sports excellence and social change that ultimately improving the lives of individuals, communities and the region. With the Afrika Sports Foundation Center, we are aiming at creating the first sports university in East Africa. Through this, we shall be providing accessible and affordable sports courses to sports passionate people across the region. The foundation—built on a 10-acre land—will also provide modern sports facilities fostering the professional growth of the athletes, and equally, host high-profile sporting events throughout the year as well as supporting community initiatives towards attaining Sustainable Development Goals.
As a leader hailing from the sports sector, how will you define your roles and responsibilities at Afrika Sports Foundation?
Forging an institution requires tremendous efforts and hard work from different team players. My major role is to guide the institution into laying concrete steps towards developing a firm business plan to last us throughout the initial years and strategizing a productive and working team to execute this plan. I also build a network and partner with like-minded people and organizations, through which we can share ideas and host activities together. Fundraising is also top on my priority list because setting up a university is an intimidating task which requires collaboration and partnership.
My favorite part about leading is watching the transformation process. Although sometimes it is slow, transformation cannot be rushed and when it takes place it is worth every obstacle—it, therefore, brings me the most joy when I see a change in people and society.
A leader must possess certain encompassing skills in order to lead the team. What skills or abilities make you unique in your position?
I easily integrate into any environment. Relating to people comes easy for me—making me a people person. I also possess multitasking and creative skills, and I believe these make me unique and are critical characteristics in the sports industry.
With digitization at its peak, how are you planning to inculcate various technological advancements into the daily operations of the sports center?
As the pandemic restricted in-person interactions, it opened a new window of growth for technology—with trending aspects such as Artificial Intelligence being encrypted into our lives. From simple tasks such as voice commands to complex ones such as AI integration in medical research, AI has reformed our perception and experience towards the world.
In order to be able to provide great service, it is vital for us to understand how to use data analytics and AI in the management of sports, and it will be really beneficial—when it comes to players and the team as a whole for example using wearable sensors and high-speed cameras, coaches can also measure the fitness and health trends of a player.
What are your opinions on gender-disparity issues within the industry? Do you foresee any changes in the current generation?
For a long time, women have been fighting for equality in sports and many other sectors. Presently, education and information on the issues of gender disparity are more available than before—making it easier to track progress and plan ahead. Despite the slow pace, the fight for gender equality has resulted in various remarkable changes within sports institutions. For instance, FIFA is setting up structures that promote women’s football not just on the pitch but also on administrative grounds, which are slowly being replicated in many federations across the globe. Besides, countries such as Norway, Finland, Netherlands, and Australia have set precedence by embracing equal pay for both female and male national football players.
In the future, however, providing more access to girls and women to acquire knowledge will empower them with the confidence to not only compete for the best jobs but also giving them the confidence to call out any imbalances or injustices within the industry. In the end, the sports industry is experiencing a great mindset, and women are the new frontier.
If provided with the authority, what changes would you like to introduce within the industry?
I would focus on reducing the gender disparity gap by increasing the number of women in leadership—from the bottom to the top level—and creating opportunities which empower women with skills and knowledge. I would tackle the issue of unprofessionalism by investing more in sports educational institutions and polishing up on sports policies regarding employment.
Currently, we notice a comparative increase in the participation of women in sports. With respect to that, what would you like to convey to the women readers?
We cannot underestimate the power of seeking personal development through knowledge and networking. Women have always been resilient and consistent; it is, therefore, an important period in our life to take on the spaces at the high table so we can further change the dynamics of the industry. We should also remember that gender equality is not a fight against men nor is it a competition, but rather a process we are passionately embracing so that girls and women all over can enjoy the opportunities that give them a fulfilled life on this earth. Part of this process also means men coming out boldly to support us but also women supporting each other. Don’t leave your sister behind, it is not equal until we are all growing.
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