The glass ceiling of women in top echelon of sports administration in the world and indeed in Africa is unmistakable high. But Moroccan amazon Bouchra Hajij is at the ready to challenge the old order by bidding for the presidency of the African Volleyball Confederation otherwise known as Confederation Africaine de Volleyball(CAVB), reports MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN.
Compared to their male counterparts, very few women are in top echelon of sports administration in the world and their number is even more insignificant in Africa but Moroccan Bouchra Hajij is certainly an exemption to the norm. The 51-year-old Moroccan is widely regarded as one of the ‘poster girls’ of volleyball in the world because she grew through the ranks as an international player before she ventured into administration.
Overtime, she has shown that she is indeed a woman of many parts both in sports governance and corporate leadership and she is seemingly enjoying both worlds.
Currently, she is the Human resource manager at the famous Bank Al-Maghrib (Central Bank of the kingdom of Morocco) and also serving her second term as president of the Royal Moroccan Volleyball Federation.
“Sports is an unified medium and practice of sports has always brought people together and never divided them,” she told The Nation about her close affinity to sport right from her early days. “My religious faith has never been a barrier for me practicing sports especially volleyball at high level.
“In Morocco, we do believe in friendship and respect for others and as such, sports in itself is a religion no matter which religious faith you do believe and practice.
“ The most important is that you value each and every athlete in whatever sports they compete.”
Volleyball seemed to be her first love since she reportedly started her career in volleyball as age eight en route to playing for some of her country’s best clubs including CODM; FAR;Credit Agtricole and FUBS where she featured in several international competitions at one time or the other during her heyday.
Hajij, in the meantime, combined her love for sports and academics with panache earning a first degree in Experimental Science and Diploma in Sports Management from the Royal Institute for the Training of Youth and Sport Executives. She is also a holder of a Master’s Degree in marketing and communication from ISCAE ( business school).
Widely regarded for her advocacy for women’s leadership and gender equality, especially in sports.
The amazon joined the Royal Moroccan Volleyball Federation as a federal member in 2012 and was elected the first female president of the federation in 2015, and is now serving her second term. She is the first African woman to serve as a Board of Administration member for the International Federation of Volleyball(FIVB) following her election in 2016 of ahead of former Indonesia Olympic Committee President Rita Subowo.
Last May, she was re-elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Culture and Olympic Heritage Commission and she chairs the Committee on the Development of Women’s Sport in the Arab World.
“It’s a good opportunity for African women in sport and generally for Africa as a continent,” she said of her appointments into the international bodies. “ I’m proud to be associated with organisations such as IOC and FIVB where good governance is key; I’m looking forward to developing management skills, learn about good governance and best practices to improve our game.
“We have to uphold transparency and democracy in our operations at CAVB. The various zones also need to be involved so that all member federations benefit from CAVB support.”
Early this month, the executive board of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) appointed her as a member of the body’s parity committee.
No wonder Hajij admitted she is the kind of woman that is talented; ambibitious and practical to be leader that would make a difference hence her determination to unseat the long-serving Egyptian Amr Elwani in the forthcoming polls of the African Volleyball Confederation otherwise known as Confederation Africaine de Volleyball(CAVB).
“Instead of asking me how would I cope with my duties as president of CAVB (because of my interesting profile), I would want say how my corporate experience will help in changing the face of Volleyball in Africa,” Hajij who is fluent in English, French and Arabic languages, told The Nation in an interview from her base in Morocco. “The Volleyball management in Africa has been for the last two decades a one man show with a president surrounded by a comfortable majority having the virus syndrome of ‘YES’ sir.
“ In 2001, there has been a change in the leadership of the African Volleyball due to the fact that there was a complete absence of collaborative management.
“ Rather for African Volleyball to move as a “one piece volleyball nation” CAVB has been in bits and pieces without a proper and common vision in the last 19 years.
“It is clear that I will use my experience and contacts in the corporate world to transform African Volleyball into a visionary and results oriented institution where each and every member National Federation will feel proud to belong to it.
“Just a food for thought; today in a world where sports is mostly financed by big sponsors and media, African Volleyball has not a single dedicated sponsor and leading media following volleyball in Africa.”
In all her years as administrator, Hajij has demonstrated she is a change agent with many of her interventionist policies and transparent leadership under her watch as president of the commission of the Union of Arab Women Volleyball.
Hajij would be the first to admit that volleyball has not enjoyed the boom and enthusiasm all over Africa unlike other sports like basketball and football with huge followership. But she is not perplexed about the way out: “First and foremost, I will not benchmark at this stage what others are doing but rather looking at what our own sports practitioners need; and the very fact that there is nothing right now, it will be so easy for the improvements to be visible in a very short lapse of time.
“Our member national federations have been left on their own for many years despite the fact that our International Federation has invested huge amount in African Volleyball over the last decade.
“We have been made to understand that FIVB has contributed over USD 20M in the last 12 years in African volleyball and yet, if you look at the participation and ranking of African Volleyball nations worldwide, one would clearly understand that we are far from a performing confederation.”
But for COVID-19 pandemic, the CAVB Electoral Congress was to be held in September but has since been shifted to October even as the body seek a suitable host country for what would be a heavyweight presidential poll between incumbent Dr. Elwani and Hajij.
“I am not going to unveil my strategy right now because I strongly believe that the member national federations should be the first to discover my proposed leadership plan for African Volleyball,” explained Hajij who also serves as President of the Volleyball arm of the COMD Club of Meknes. “It is good to mention now that the plan is being prepared right now while listening to the member national federations’ needs and suggestions.
“However, it is no secret that we should start by a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of our cherished sports in Africa and I mean both volleyball and beach volleyball.
“You will be surprised to see with facts how huge is the gap between the 10% of African high level Volleyball nations and the other 90% of our member nations. The priority number one is to close the gap by equipping the member national federations both technically and financially.
“Nothing moves without money but the use of the money shall be efficient and effective which will be visible through progressive measurement and achievements.”
It no secret that Hajij is an administrator of no mean repute with her foots on many fronts in her country, FIVB, ANOCA and Arabian volleyball and she reckoned her leadership style would readily bring about the desired changes in CAVB if given the chance to lead the beleaguered body.
“My strength lies in my listening skills,” assured Hajij who is an FIVB executive board member and a member of the body’s board of directors. “When you allow people to talk, you better understand their forces and challenges and as such, you can easily guide them in the most effective manner.
“My philosophy is that I value people through my belief that everyone is important and together we shall succeed.
“I hate autocratic style whereby others cannot talk and this is the existing management of our institution (CAVB) today,” she noted.
Still on the electioneering turf and amid the challenges of COVID-19, Hajij assured that sports and indeed volleyball can only come out stronger after the pandemic with strategic planning and transparency.
She explained: “It is not proper on my side to tell you that a real team sports like volleyball can become stronger after so many months of idleness in terms of practice in team.
“The back to Volleyball strategy has to be well designed and unfortunately nothing as such has been developed by our African volleyball organization to accompany our member national federations to be back on rails.
“But I am working on a plan, for instance, to fully support the national federations and their national teams to quickly forget the bad COVID-19 episode once I take office as President.”
Bouchra, a Moroccan, was born on June 23, 1969.
She was a Moroccan national team volleyball player and featured in several international competitions including the African Championship, African Clubs Championship, Arab Championship, Mediterranean Games and Francophone Games during her active playing years.
She a familiar face in several international bodies and majorly Vice President of Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) and doubles as a member of the body’s Board of Directors as well as being a member of the Culture and Olympic Heritage Commission of the Internal Olympic Committee (IOC).
On the domestic Moroccan scene, Bouchra hold important portfolios; and aside being the Human Resources Manager at Central Bank of Morocco, she has been president of CODM Club of Meknes, Vice President of FUS Club and organizer of the annual indoor Arabo-African Volleyball tournament with the last being held in March with 17 countries.
She is also the president of the female commission of the Union of Arab Volleyball amongst other prestigious offices.
Bouchra, who is also the president of the Royal Moroccan Volleyball Federation, is bidding to unseat long-serving Egyptian Amr Elwani in the forthcoming CAVB polls.
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