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Women in football: Five stars of UEFA EURO 2020

We meet five women who in different ways are helping to deliver this summer's tournament.

Earlier this year, UEFA launched a new campaign highlight the game-changing impact that women are making on the European football community.

Each month, UEFA is putting the focus on five individuals whose work is helping to shape the present and future of football – at all levels of the game. Whether on the pitch, in front of the cameras or in the boardroom, each of our featured game-changers has an inspiring story to tell, setting the perfect example for more women and girls to make their own mark in the game.

In our fourth instalment, focused on EURO 2020, we talk to:

• Eniola Aluko, the former England international providing expert TV analysis

• Sharon Burkhalter-Lau, UEFA's director of operations

• Lene Kryger, managing director of UEFA EURO 2020 Copenhagen

• Diana Pirciu, volunteer manager for UEFA EURO 2020 Bucharest

• Célia Šašić, Germany's former UEFA Women's EURO champion and ambassador for UEFA EURO 2024

Eniola Aluko: 'When we do what we love, our best version comes out!'

 Eniola Aluko combines TV punditry with a new role as sporting director of Angel City FC
Eniola Aluko combines TV punditry with a new role as sporting director of Angel City FCGetty Images for Angel City FC

Eniola Aluko played more than 100 times for England while also pursuing an off-field career in sports and entertainment law. Having enjoyed club football in the USA and Italy, as well as at home, she is now sporting director with the new Los Angeles-based Angel City FC, but this summer, her focus is on EURO 2020 and providing expert studio analysis on British TV.

How much do you enjoy your work as an expert on TV, and how important is it that women are seen in these roles?

"I really enjoy the analysis of the matches, understanding which players are involved and knowing all the teams. You don’t just turn up and watch the game. You prepare, you speak to the production team, and it is not just talking about football anymore. We discuss some of the social issues around the game, such as diversity, inclusion and racism, so you can also educate and that is the part that I really take seriously. People talk a lot about the diversity of pundits now, but I think we just need to normalise competency, and that way nobody will think about whether you are a woman or what race you are. I feel really fortunate to be helping and opening doors for other women, and hopefully they can be inspired to follow."

How does it feel to play at a EURO?

"It’s amazing. It’s a carnival atmosphere, there is obviously a build-up to the major tournament throughout the year and throughout the season, you’re thinking, ‘I want to get into the England squad'. There’s obviously huge pressure because the whole nation is watching you, but the best players really thrive on it."

Do you miss playing? What is your advice for other women thinking about the next steps in their career?

"When it came to retire, I was really excited about moving into another area of my life. Being a sporting director incorporates so many roles and you really sit at the centre of a club – now I have an incredible project at a majority female-owned club, and we have a real opportunity to make an exciting impact. My advice to other women would be to be courageous in what you want to do - when we do what we love, the best version of ourselves comes out. We often undersell ourselves as women, but we have superpowers. We are so multi-dimensional and so gifted and have such an ability to do what we want to do, so be ready for resistance, but push through and don't be afraid to change the status quo."

Where to watch EURO 2020

Sharon Burkhalter-Lau: 'Adversity forces you to break barriers, change your assumptions and find solutions.'

 Sharon Burkhalter-Lau has almost 30 years' experience in event maangement
Sharon Burkhalter-Lau has almost 30 years' experience in event maangementUEFA via Getty Images

As operations director at UEFA, Sharon Burkhalter-Lau is responsible for the planning and staging of European football's biggest events, including European football's club competition finals and EURO 2020. With almost 30 years' experience in event management, she heads a team of over 650 people dedicated to ensuring the completion of this summer's tournament.

How has organising EURO 2020 differed from other tournaments?

"This EURO, with the multi-country format, has really taken a lot of time, even before considering the impact of the pandemic.

"The past year has been a mix of different emotions. We have had a lot of uncertainty, and that’s not what operations is about, operations is about ensuring a certain outcome, doing everything you can to guarantee delivery of the event, based on experience and expertise, and for EURO 2020 we didn’t have these things before.

"When you are leading a huge team across multiple sites, this is very difficult, so it has been an extremely busy year, but when you face adversity, it forces you to break barriers, break routines and habits, so you re-examine your assumptions and, finally, find solutions to achieve your objectives."

How does it feel to have completed the puzzle and have the tournament taking place after so much uncertainty?

"It’s indescribable, really. Throughout the process, you are focused on what needs to be done, especially in terms of getting spectators into the venues, but the moment it all comes home is when you see the players walking out before the match with so much noise inside the stadium. This atmosphere, it's just amazing and I can't think of another experience that could replace it.

"It is also satisfying to have overcome the adversity, and we have learnt a lot for the future – that we can be leaner, more efficient and the experience will help us grow to do even better for EURO 2024 in Germany."

How much change have you seen in the industry and the role of women during your career?

"The sports industry has become a lot more lucrative and you see a lot more specialists working within it now. People have high expectations of live events, not just the 90 minutes but everything around it, so that’s become a lot more professional.

"I think there have always been women working in football, often in administration and less so in management roles, but that’s something that is changing for the better. Now, there are not so many women in directorial positions, but this needs experience, and if you look back to the 1990s, you will see there are now a lot more women in senior positions. The more women we see in management, eventually the more we will see as directors too."

EURO 2020 match schedule

Lene Kryger: 'Don't plan too far ahead and take the opportunities that come your way!'

Lene Kryger has overseen Copenhagen's staging of EURO 2020
Lene Kryger has overseen Copenhagen's staging of EURO 2020

Lene Kryger has been managing director of UEFA EURO 2020 Copenhagen since January 2017 – overseeing the planning and delivery of the host city's four matches at the tournament. She has over 10 years' experience in sports event management, having also organised events including the Rugby World Cup Sevens and the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships.

It has been a long road to EURO 2020. What has kept you motivated for success over the past four years?

"To succeed is a motivation in itself. With these projects, it's inspiring to understand that we are working for a greater good, not just for football but in promoting the city, promoting Denmark and Danish values. It is not just personal success but to benefit others and to know that what we do has a positive effect. We talk about legacy a lot, in terms of providing opportunities for our communities – that means bringing people together to see the games but also staging events which promote projects that allow people to see everything the city offers."

What challenges and projects will you look forward to after EURO 2020?

"There are lots of projects within the DBU where we are looking to expand some of our facilities and build an elite training centre, but we are also hoping to host a major women's tournament. The Women's EURO or FIFA Women's World Cup would be a huge opportunity to further build women's football in Denmark. It would be a fantastic event to host and would allow us to set a series of goals to increase participation along the way. It would be fantastic to have an event for the whole country, involving several different host cities and stadiums, would be a fantastic opportunity for spectators and volunteers around the country."

As a role model for other women, what would be your advice for those looking to follow a similar path to you?

"To be honest, I haven't thought about being a role model before, or at least I haven’t been conscious about it, but I hope that I am for other women around me. Women who want to work in football shouldn’t be intimidated, there is a long way to go but change is in motion. My advice is not to plan too far ahead and always take the opportunities that come your way."

EURO 2020 venue guides

Diana Pirciu: 'I didn’t come this far to only come this far!'

Diana Pirciu manages 800 volunteers in Bucharest
Diana Pirciu manages 800 volunteers in Bucharest

A former Romanian international tennis player, Diana Pirciu studied communications and sports marketing in the USA before joining the Romanian Football Federation (FRF) as a corporate social responsibility manager and education specialist. For EURO 2020, she is the host city volunteer manager in Bucharest, overseeing a team of 800 to ensure the city's four matches go to plan.

How has your background playing sport helped in your current role?

"As a tennis player, you play individually but you often have team matches as well. I went through the transition from being somebody who wins for themselves, to a team player, where it wouldn’t matter if I won when my team-mates lost their matches, because it hurt the team. It’s like a domino. If one falls, then we all fall, so we must stand tall to strengthen the team as well. Each one of us working on EURO 2020 is just a piece in the puzzle. I also think that as an athlete, you learn to be courageous, you deal with defeat, and you learn discipline and respect, which are important anywhere in life."

What have you learnt from leading a team of hundreds?

"There are not many people in Romania with the experience of managing a team this big, especially for a sports event, and I want to make the most of it. It is a lot of work, but I say to myself, ‘I didn’t come this far to only come this far’. I proved that I deserve to be here, I worked hard to make it and every day I give 110% to make sure things go well. I never think about it, but I have learnt so much, from logistics to human resources to motivational methods. Wearing the EURO 2020 logo is a source of pride but also responsibility, and it's important everybody understands this, so it's important to make sure the team is motivated and feel good doing what they do."

How will you reflect on this experience once the tournament is over?

"I couldn’t wait for the tournament to start - I am so happy it's finally here. I use a visualisation technique from tennis, to imagine seeing everybody connected to the event coming together at the end and all of us feeling incredibly grateful to have been here. Then, we can look back and think of all the lessons we have learnt and get ready for the next challenge!"

How EURO 2020 helps Romanian football

Célia Šašić: 'It's a chance to use the power of football to create something bigger!'

Former Germany international Célia Šašić is a UEFA EURO 2024 ambassador
Former Germany international Célia Šašić is a UEFA EURO 2024 ambassador

Former German international Célia Šašić is a double UEFA Women's EURO champion, a UEFA Women's Champions League winner and winner of the Best Women's Player in Europe award. Now, she is an ambassador for UEFA EURO 2024, but will be keeping a close eye on events during the next two summers.

What does your ambassadorial role for EURO 2024 entail, and what does it mean for this summer's tournament?

"We are in a lucky position here in Germany that we have EURO 2020 here, right now, with four games in Munich, and then, in 2024, we host the whole tournament so we can benefit and learn from this experience. As an ambassador, I already have the chance to tell people about what we want to achieve in 2024 – it is crucial that these events make a positive impact on society beyond the stadium, it is a real chance to use the power of football to create something bigger. I also know what it is to be a European champion!

This summer represents a major opportunity to inspire girls' interest in the game ahead of UEFA Women's EURO 2022 next year…

"The EURO is an event where everyone is watching, everyone wants to be a part of it. When I started playing, I watched men's football, they were my role models and I wanted to achieve what they did, it didn’t matter if they were men or women. What is important is that whoever inspires them, when girls want to play football, we give them the possibility to do so. We need more academies and better infrastructure so that girls can play within every community. The landscape of women's football has changed very quickly in a positive way, but we are still on a journey and we must give young players the possibility to develop in professional surroundings, just like talented boys. With this in mind, it's great that next year, the Women's EURO has its own spotlight, and it will be an opportunity to take momentum from this summer into next year."

And finally, how does it feel to be a European champion?

It just feels great! You see other players, men, women, lifting trophies and you want to achieve it too. Eventually, when it happens, you just think, 'Wow!'. Every title has something special and every trophy you raise is a sign of the work you did before. Not many people get to do it, but I believe the feeling is the same whether you are professional or amateur, it's something really, really special."

Learn about EURO 2024