Throughout this week, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is celebrating International Women's Day (8 March) by highlighting the progress being made across all levels of the sport thanks to inspiring females. Today we look at the key women directing the sport of hockey as Executive Board Members of the world's governing body.
“There are seven women on the FIH Executive Board and together, we are all aware of the need to empower and inspire a next step in breaking down barriers," said Marijke Fleuren, who is leading hockey's governing body in its quest for gender equality.
But, as she says: “It’s not a question of numbers but more about the strategy and the tangible results”.
The European Hockey Federation (EHF) President and FIH Executive Board member has been busy across a number of roles as she seeks to ensure that hockey remains at the forefront of promoting and sustaining gender equality.
Her work has seen her in discussion with the IOC Women in Sport Commission; meeting with the Ministry for Sport in the Netherlands; and sharing ideas with IOC President Thomas Bach. She will also be sitting on the International Federation’s Women’s Forum from the end of March.
Fleuren is quick to point out that she is just one of a number of people working within FIH who are pushing hard to achieve gender equality.
“All the women on the Board represent different areas and different cultures but we are all behind the FIH Gender Policy and work hard throughout the year, not just on International Women’s Day.”
And this is an important point. While Fleuren is a supporter of International Women’s Day, particularly because of the exposure it brings to all the great initiatives that are currently pushing for gender equality, she is also keen to remind the rest of the world that there are people working on this area every day.
“There are seven women on the FIH Executive Board and together, we are all aware of the need to empower and inspire a next step in breaking down barriers."
Marijke Fleuren, FIH Executive Board Member and European Hockey Federation President
One such person is Yolanda Brada, who Fleuren singles out for praise for her work on umpire education within the EHF. “Yolanda became an umpire and then an international umpire but her true calling has been the education of umpires. She has particularly concentrated on working with women umpires, giving them support and confidence to progress to the highest level. Like everyone, she needs support in this role but she is one of the people who really does work hard to make change happen.”
An exciting step forward was taken recently when the IOC Executive Board accepted 25 recommendations for achieving gender equality. The proposals, put forward by a working party, had already been accepted by the Women in Sport Commission in November.
For Fleuren this is a really positive step change as it focuses on strategies for change. The recommendations cover a range of issues, but at the heart of the strategy are three main areas: sport, facilities and governance.
Starting with sport makes huge sense to the Dutch woman. “In all parts of a sport you should see equality. It starts with participation and then the competition format and the rules — they should all be the same. Athletes should wear same uniforms as far as possible, made from the same materials; they should use the same equipment. The technical official should be of a similar high standard. And, my own particular bugbear – the prize giving. I hate it when the prize givers are only men.”
When it comes to facilities, there are still massive inequalities. Throughout the hockey world, at all levels, there are examples of tournaments and competitions in which men's matches are played on top quality pitches at prime times, while women's matches are on pitches of inferior quality and at the 'quieter' periods of the day.
“Of course, it is easy to pass comment but we need to recognise that big strides have already been made – it is only a short while ago there may not have been a women’s event at all,” she concedes.
The sticky area when it comes to sport governance is how to get women to even apply to sit on boards. Fleuren argues that it is not just about getting numbers of women on Boards but sports need to take a look at their recruitment processes.
“How do we attract women onto Boards. You want to get women who are really involved in the sport, so you need to work in advance to get them interested in taking up a role,” she says.
“The same is true of committees or in management. We will only achieve equality when it is the part of everything around, when the CEO, the Board Member and the receptionist are all saying the same thing.”
It is a sentiment that is shared by IOC President Thomas Bach. “He takes a very logical approach,” says Fleuren. “Thomas Bach is a big supporter of the HeforShe campaign because, as he says, why would you ignore the voices and capabilities of 50 per cent of the population?”
With seven active and strong women on the FIH Executive Board, could it be said that hockey is a sport that is leading the way in Gender equality?
“I am loathe to say we are leading the way for fear of appearing complacent,” says Fleuren. “But we are fortunate in that we are a sport where men and women can play together so if there are gaps we can identify them and talk about them.”
She cites umpiring as one area of hockey where enormous steps have been taken by the European Hockey Federation in recent years. “Within the EHF, we had a motion calling for women umpires to always be appointed to women’s international events and at the time, I didn’t think that would be possible. But no, we now have a professional body of strong, talented, extremely fit female umpires."
The EHF continues to drive the agenda. In December the EHF executive Board adopted a gender equality strategy that is all about leadership, participation and education. This was prepared by Tom Pedersen-Smith, another person who Fleuron praises for the quite but efficient way he is driving change.
“We should be proud of all we have achieved so far, but we have to keep pushing forwards," says Fleuren. "I think that I see it so often that sometimes I forget just how proud of our sport we should be.”
With this year's International Women's Day movement calling on action to press forward and progress gender parity, FIH is encouraging everyone involved in our sport to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. Join the movement: #PressForProgress
To see all FIH Executive Board Members, .