making World Cup history in Russia

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The World Cup in Russia will be a tournament of firsts. It will be the first held in Ian Thomas Authentic Jersey eastern Europe and the Eurasian landmass. It will be the first for Panama and Iceland. It will be the first to feature video assistant referee technology. And, for the first time in the 88-year history of Fifa’s flagship event, two of the most senior officials – host city general coordinators – will be female.

One is Australian Jo Fernandes, women and girls development manager at Football New South Wales. A charismatic 51-year-old, Fernandes was recently appointed general coordinator for Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave among the Baltics and the western-most of the host cities. The creatively-named Kaliningrad Stadium will play host to four matches during the World Cup, including visits from Spain, Croatia, England and Belgium.

“I am very proud to have been selected,” says Fernandes. “It is not the first time a woman has had this role at a Fifa tournament – myself and another were general coordinators in India and South Korea last year for the Under-17 World Cup and Under-20 World Cup. But this year they have appointed women for the senior men’s World Cup for the first time. It is ongoing progress from Fifa.”
The general coordinator role demands versatility, with responsibility for each venue resting on their shoulders. “Everything!” laughs Fernandes when asked to describe what the position entails. General coordinators are the highest ranking Fifa officials in each host city. They are paired with an equivalent from the local organising committee, and together manage a team of Fifa employees and local staff numbering into the hundreds to ensure the tournament is delivered smoothly.
“We run the venue,” she says. “We look James Casey Authentic Jersey after training fields, transport, ensure the teams are getting in and out through the city smoothly, and then most importantly the stadium – making sure everything is ready for match day. Everything from spectator facilities, waste disposal to technical operations for broadcast. We are effectively the CEO of the venue.”
While Fernandes expects her time at the World Cup to be demanding, she credits local organising committee colleagues for the bulk of the hard work. “We come in and assist at the pointy end of the operations,” she says. “We mostly fine tune during the delivery phase – making sure all Fifa operational requirements are met. But the local organisers – with Fifa guidance – have been working on the World Cup for years. They have done a massive job.”
Fernandes leaves for Russia at Enrique Hernandez Authentic Jersey the beginning of June, and will spend several weeks in Kaliningrad preparing before the first match which kicks off on 16 June. She was recently Jonathan Isaac Authentic Jersey in Sochi for a technical briefing, and has been receiving daily updates from her local counterpart. “I am undergoing a crash course,” Fernandes jokes of her Russian language abilities. “It is not my first time in Russia – I was there with the Young Matildas in 2006 – but most of the words I learned are long gone.”
Fernandes’ journey to the pinnacle of football administration was unintended. She studied sports science in Canberra with a view to specialising, but upon graduation accepted a job for the ACT’s female football federation (at the time state and territory federations were split by gender). Fernandes later moved to Football Federation Australia, where she was Matildas team manager for over a decade and headed the W-League for four years.
Kaliningrad is not among the host cities to welcome the Socceroos and their fans during the group stage, and will host no knock-out matches. But Fernandes is only mildly disappointed to be missing her national team. “Fifa try to allocate us in such a way that people are not in charge of matches played by their own country,” she explains. “It is not a hard and fast rule – I was responsible at Australia’s heart-breaking loss to Brazil at 2016 Rio Olympics – but the preferred position is that we are assigned elsewhere.” Not, she says, that it would matter if she was in charge of Australian matches. “When I am in general coordinator mode I barely notice the colours of the shirts – I am focused on so much more than the match.”


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