In September 2020, five former students of the FIFA/CIES Executive Programme in Sport Management started the 21st edition of the FIFA Master at De Montfort University in Leicester (England). In this series, four of them provide us with their impressions of the education programmes offered by CIES and also their career paths in sport. Today, we meet Diana Yonah, a graduate from Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Diana Yonah is originally from Kenya. Prior to joining the FIFA Master almost ten months ago, she had a professional career in football, including six years as a club licensing manager for Tusker F.C. This Nairobi-based club won the Kenyan football championship on multiple occasions. Diana also attended the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France as a member of the FIFA Fan Movement. This experience, along with her participation on the FIFA/CIES Executive Programme organised by Nelson Mandela University, opened her eyes to the different facets of women's football. In fact, she devoted her Final Project to the topic of commercialisation of women's football in Africa. Shortly before the pandemic hit, Diana volunteered at the Global Goals World Cup in Uganda where she was responsible for creating content for International Women's Day. This competition brings together women's teams who promote one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They are then ranked by the action taken for their Global Goal – both on and off the field. The teams, therefore, are awarded not only for winning a tournament. They also create impact locally and globally.
What were your first impressions of Europe?
I was a bit anxious about coming to Europe alone and staying for a year. Therefore, I prepared myself. It all starts in your head, though. Luckily the first module was in England, where I had no problems with the language. My stays in Italy and Switzerland were a bit more complicated. I had to learn Italian and French to adapt better to life outside of the classroom. Now I can say with satisfaction that I have improved in these two languages. Travelling from country to country, which involves cultural changes, forced me to leave my comfort zone. This has been a huge positive for me.
How did you adapt to the constraints of studying during the health crisis?
The first few months were complicated because I hate sitting behind a laptop for a long time because of my eyesight. Fortunately, we were also able to attend face-to-face classes on campus. Again, I would say that it all depends on how well you are able to train your mind to adapt to the constraints of the environment. For me, I have turned these constraints into privileged moments such as going to the library, reading in the peaceful gardens of Castle Court in Leicester or on the shores of the Lake of Neuchâtel.
Why did you decide to participate in the FIFA Master?
The decision was made three years ago because I always wanted to do the FIFA Master. Even though I didn't pass the first two selection processes, I never gave up hope. I kept preparing and applying until I was finally accepted. From a family point of view, it was not easy. I had to leave my five-year-old son in Kenya. Needless to say, this was a huge sacrifice. Once again, I had to look at things in a positive way. I hugged my son and told him: "Son, mummy will study just like you. But I promise you I will make it up to you” To my surprise, he replied, "Okay, Mom, see you soon!” Thinking about him motivates me every day. I also thank my mother, father and family who supported me in my dreams. They made me feel that participating in the FIFA Master was the best possible decision.
Was the NMU/FIFA/CIES Executive Programme helpful in preparing you for this experience? In what way?
Yes, it was very helpful. I remember all the planning I had to do before travelling to South Africa to attend the course in Port Elizabeth for the four one-week sessions. I learned how to manage a budget and interact with people from different backgrounds. This experience proved to me that I could cope. From an academic point of view, I still refer to some NMU courses. In addition, I have made lasting friendships. Indeed, my classmates are very supportive. We are in constant communication to encourage each other. We are even considering how to collaborate on different projects to develop sport on our continent. I am thinking of Thabang from South Africa and Rosebud from Zimbabwe, among others. I can say without hesitation that the NMU/FIFA/CIES Executive Programme has been a stepping stone to my career. It has taken me from being a shy little girl to a bold and versatile woman in the football industry.
What will the sports manager of tomorrow be like after the pandemic? What qualities will he or she need to have?
He or she will need to have multiple attributes. For me, the essential qualities are openness, humility, the ability to work in a team, perseverance and not being afraid of work. Not forgetting the need to be focused. You have to have a clear objective. To sum up, sports managers have to become leaders because many people expect you to show the way, to take courageous decisions. The pandemic taught us to be quick. Time does not wait for us. The sports industry changes every day. We have to be ready to work to the best of our ability.
Do you think sport will be transformed by the pandemic? In what way?
There is no doubt about it. We can already see how the pandemic has left its mark on sport. Until now, many clubs and associations had not adopted many technological tools. They have to get on board now. Many media outlets have been forced to develop innovative ideas to create their content. The pandemic forced sponsors to find new ways to reach their target market. For some, the pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They used this period to develop new strategies. They thought about how they should change the way they work in the future, taking into account the consequences and lessons of the pandemic. In Africa, for example, not many people had embraced electronic payment, which has a leverage effect on membership for sports organisations. Now the movement is on. If this continues, as I have seen, the pandemic will also have had positive aspects.
Once the FIFA Master is over, what will be the next step?
It has been a very intense year... I have recorded every step, every bit of my journey. My dream now is to be able to launch my podcast. I will make it happen once I graduate. I also have some unfinished projects back at home. I will finally be able to realise them because the FIFA Master adventure has given me a clearer picture of where life is taking me, or perhaps more where I want it to take me!
A favourite sportsperson?
Football is my favourite sport. So I would mention McDonald Mariga, Asisat Lamina Oshoala and Didier Drogba.
Where do you see yourself in the next 20 years?
What a huge question! In 20 years, I would like to have contributed to the progress of women's football in my country. I would also like my club, Tusker FC, to have participated in the Club World Cup. In the same vein, I want to use sport to educate African women on the importance of good menstrual hygiene. With the support of partners and sponsors, I would be happy to carry out projects for women to complete their schooling, to become more and more involved in sport, to become bold and determined, to be successful in their field of expertise, whether it is a sports manager, a lawyer, a referee, a footballer, a journalist or any other activity... or passion.