French Federation President Brigitte Schleifer overcomes gender barriers and political unrest to lead France through crisis


Presidents of national football federations tend to have a distinct appearance and experience. These are men, usually gray haired, who have years of playing or coaching experience under their belt. If you were to look for the definition of an old guard boys’ club, American football leadership might just be the next picture.

Brigitte Schleifer does not match this picture.

The president of From France the national federation arrived at its position by an unusual route, but rose to the challenge. Not so long ago, American football was a foreign concept, now she is leading one of the biggest federations in Europe through the current crisis.

Unlike most federation presidents, grinder The soccer journey started as an active mom.

“They needed a judge in the club to participate in the competition, so I got a little involved in cheerleading,” she explains.

A frequent volunteer to begin with, it wasn’t long before crusher was deeply rooted in the national competition circuit. In 2015, she was approached by members of the FFFA run for the post of secretary general and help fill out From France 25% legal obligation for women leaders on organizational boards of their size. She jumped at the chance.

“I had time and it was a new challenge, an opportunity to develop my personal knowledge.

She took on the job in 2016 and quickly had to educate herself on the non-cheerleading aspects of the FFFA mandate.

“I don’t like to do things by halves, so once I became general secretary, I made sure I was interested in all three disciplines,” says Schleifer. “Even though my main focus was on cheerleading, I was involved in several committees where we discussed a bit of everything from flag football to men’s tackle. That’s how I got to know American football.

His term of office as Secretary General will be short-lived. In December 2017, the political upheaval reached its climax FFFA the general assembly and the incumbent president were forced to resign. crusher was quickly approached to step into the role.

“Becoming president was more or less ensuring the continuity of projects already underway in the Federation,” she says.

Not selected and from a more specialized background, crusher faces significant obstacles to prove himself in the world of American Football.

“It can be a challenge to bring your vision and ideas into a world that is more masculine than feminine and make sure that doesn’t stop you from becoming top football players,” she admits.

Being a woman in a male-dominated sport is something crusher believes that this is a regular obstacle when trying to move the affairs of the Federation forward.

“Sometimes it depends on the age of the person in front of you. In some situations it’s something totally new to them and you have to prove yourself, I would say twice, to assert your position in American football. Only then will people listen.

Coming from cheerleading, she took great pains to learn the basics of contact play but admits she wouldn’t be able to recite the rulebook or teach blocking techniques. These skills don’t necessarily translate into the boardroom, and most executives don’t understand the details of every sport they manage.

“To be an effective president, you don’t necessarily need this knowledge. I would say the former presidents who came from the American football side didn’t have that knowledge of cheerleading, ”Schleifer says.

She thinks she has other qualifications that are much more important.

“I think I have some unique skills or perspective that I can bring to the table, as a woman, as someone with a lot of experience as a volunteer or as a former city councilor” , Schleifer pointed out. “I think having this understanding of institutional structures, be it a club or a municipality, is a big plus that I can provide.

She has been encouraged by the growing number of women involved in sports and believes France has laid a good foundation with its quota of executives, but believes it could be taken further if we take the inclusion of women seriously.

“It should go beyond just advice. It should also concern referees, coaches, etc. “, she says. “Without applying some kind of minimum, unfortunately, we will never get there. “

Schleifer admits that it will mostly take time to spark women’s interest and passion, and gain men’s acceptance.

“Things are changing more and more all the time, but it is not yet innate. “

Beyond stepping into a male-dominated arena, being at the forefront of tough political decisions has often made Schleifer a controversial figure.

“There are groups with flags that have said they wanted to kick me out for two and a half years,” she said. “As president you are always doing something wrong.”

Criticism hurts but crusher is proud of what she was able to accomplish in this role.

“For me, there is not one achievement that stands out because it is a collective work”, she explains. “We reworked everything on the budget side, which was a huge challenge.”

crusher believe it FFFA is now better financially. Their national teams are among the best L’Europe  and they’ve built better structures for cheerleading and flag football. Under his leadership, they allied themselves with the CFL and traveled to Québec to build relationships in this province.

“I have a team around me and it is more the strength of this team that has led to our success,” she hijacks.

This team has become even more essential in the current climate. crusher has surrounded itself with doctors as France continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. the FFFA continues to prepare for a comeback, with more questions than answers.

“It’s a virus where we don’t know everything,” says Schleifer. “There are the same questions everywhere. Even the scientist operates on hypotheses. “

the French federation had to tackle a number of difficult issues, ranging from the safe use of the changing rooms to the mandatory use of masks and how to organize testing. crusher participated in meetings at government level and tried to make its members understand the importance of precautions.

“I think what our clubs might not understand, and I think that’s generally true, is that we put a lot of limits on them and we have to say no because it’s being given to us as a directive. And on the government side, private clubs and professionals are not subject to the same guidelines, ”she said. “We need to be very responsive to a changing situation and communicate it to our members.”

After being forced to prematurely end the 2020 season in March, crusher and his team continue to prepare for all possibilities in 2021.

“We hope to have a season starting in January and we hope it will be a more or less normal season, but that is not guaranteed because the first vaccines might not arrive until March or April of next year,” admits Schleifer . “If everyone takes the necessary precautions, we remain convinced that we will have a reasonably structured January season, but ultimately we just don’t know. I am not a crystal ball.

In the meantime, she will continue to work behind the scenes to improve the structures and visibility of American football in France. Next year, new elections to the board of directors and crusher hope his work speaks for itself.

“I hope I worked the right way. I got involved in sports. I hope that I am seen as open by the majority of people, ”she says. “Despite the debates I have had with people over the years, I may be more accepted than I think.


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