Italian Panelists Discuss Role of Women at World Football Summit

Two Italian representatives engaged in an inspiring discussion about the role of women in football today at the World Football Summit, a yearly international event powered by the Fenomeno Luis Ronaldo Nazario de Lima, which is taking place in a virtual form this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

After an introduction by La Liga president Javier Tebas, the four-day conference opened with a 45-minute panel discussion on “Women’s Leadership in Global Football” which saw the participation of two Italian woman leaders who managed to break the mold and gain a prominent place in a traditionally male-dominated world like football.

Ornella Desiree Bellia, Head of Professional Football at FIFA, and Magda Pozzo, Strategic Marketing Coordinator of Serie A club Udinese, joined an all-women panel which also featured Ebru Koksal – a Senior Advisor at J. Stern & Co. with past management experiences at Galatasaray and the Turkish Football Federation – and was moderated by UK journalist Lynsey Hooper, known for her weekly podcast “The Offside Rules.”

Pozzo and Bellia shared their experiences as women in football, from their beginnings to gaining a relevant place in the calcio universe and beyond, and provided insight about how the post-COVID football world could benefit from a female perspective and an out-of-the-box approach that a woman’s point of view may bring. They also highlighted the need for football to reinvent itself and find new strategies to bring people together starting from its major places of aggregation – the stadiums.

Bellia recalled how her love for football dates to her childhood and how she eventually landed a job at her hometown club Catania. She didn’t refrain from sharing how her struggles to be accepted in a pretty male-oriented environment led her to temporarily quit football in the past, before making a triumphal comeback as she reached some key positions at FIFA.

Bellia sees a future where football club boardrooms are going to be more diverse and women will be more involved in decisions. Noting how many of the countries with the best success rate in containing the COVID-19 pandemic are actually led by women, Ornella Desiree Bellia argued that the times are mature for football to reinvent itself and make its system more sustainable and that women can lead that change.

For Magda Pozzo, on the other hand, football is a family affair as she is the daughter of longtime Udinese and Watford president Giampaolo Pozzo. Make no mistake, however: Magda is a successful businesswoman herself, who played a key role in introducing the concept of sponsorship and naming rights applied to a stadium in Italy.

Pozzo highlighted the case of Udinese’s Dacia Arena, which is the first example in the world of a car company acquiring naming rights over a football playing ground and how that happened in a country traditionally resistant to change like Italy, where only 10% of the stadiums are sponsored – comparing to 30% in La Liga and 80% in the Bundesliga.

Pozzo’s vision of the stadium is that of a place of aggregation featuring activities and events which go far beyond a simple football game – a place where families and kids can engage in multiple social activities, play, and learn.

The World Football Summit will conclude on July 10 after more than 30 panels featuring 450 football club, federation, and national league representatives – including FIFA President Gianni Infantino and players like Iker Casillas and Ronaldo Luis Nazario Da Lima. But some Italian women – some Italian leaders – have already left a clear impression on it.