For the latest edition of She Speaks we caught up with Brazil-native, Switzerland-living Thayssa Plum, senior media relations manager at FIFA.
Thayssa began her journey in sports as a radio reporter before being awarded the AISTS Future Female Leadership in Sport scholarship which saw her move to Lausanne to study her Master in Sports Management in the heart of the Olympic Capital.
She has since worked her way through the ranks, working at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil before moving back to Switzerland to work in the FIFA Headquarters in Zurich.
The AISTS (International Academy of Sports Science and Technology) is currently accepting applications for the class of 2021 (starting in September 2020). Applications for the Female Scholarship need to be submitted by 1st February 2020.
Falling in love with the beautiful game
I graduated in journalism from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As an intern, I had the chance to experience different editorial areas and I just fell in love with sports and football in particular.
The game was beautiful to watch and analyse, but what really touched me was all the emotion around it. Witnessing 70,000 fans singing and cheering on their teams at Maracana Stadium just blew me away. I wanted to be a part of it, to experience that catharsis, to report on it.
I was hired as a radio reporter, covering mainly football matches on the pitch, from behind the goal. The action was literally right in front of me. It was incredible.
Soon after, Brazil was chosen to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. After three years as a sports reporter, I wanted to go back to school and be prepared to contribute in a greater way to these special moments. That’s when I discovered the Sports Management program at AISTS.
The AISTS Future Female Leader in Sport Scholarship
Affording a masters abroad alone was simply not possible for me, which is when I found out about a scholarship called “The AISTS Future Female Sports Leader Scholarship”, which was sponsored at the time by the June Canavan Foundation.
I had never been to Europe and didn’t know much about Switzerland other than they make great cheese and chocolate! So, the prospect of moving to Lausanne, “the Olympic Capital”, seemed like a far-away dream. I couldn’t believe it when I was told I was selected. Undoubtedly that email changed my life.
“It’s important that there are scholarship programs like the AISTS Future Female Leader in Sport. In my case, it’s pretty simple. It changed my life. Every girl has dreams, but not all pf them has the same means. Reaching out to them, supporting their dreams and making thing possible is the push they need to succeed.”
Working at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil…and then moving back to Switzerland
After one year in Lausanne studying, experiencing, networking and working with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), I went back to Brazil and was hired by the 2014 FIFA World Cup Local Organising Committee.
For three-years-and-a-half years I dived deep into this project while working for their Communications Department. For a football enthusiast and professional, having the World Cup in your country is mind-blowing and feels like playing the match of your life: you leave everything you have on the pitch. It’s exhausting but rewarding; crazy but worth it.
A few months after that chapter came to a close, I was called by FIFA to move to Zurich and continue to work with the FIFA World Cup project, this time from their headquarters. Since 2015, I’ve been developing and coordinating the Communications project for this unparalleled event – first with Russia 2018, now with Qatar 2022 – and that makes me extremely happy and proud every single day.
The gender balance in football and sports leadership
I think the discussion around women in sport varies a lot depending on what part of the world you are referring to, or to which sport. In some countries it has become absolutely natural to have women in leadership positions, in others you don’t even see female fans in the stadiums.
When it comes to football, you see how things are changing for the better, but it is a long process that will take generations to become solid and widespread. Generally speaking, my feeling is that women still need to prove themselves and their value. A man fits this environment, he is immediately seen as knowledgeable and deserving of being there. A woman has to conquer all of that. So, the first piece of advice, if I may, is to be resilient. The good news is that this also makes you stronger.
I’m still learning and experiencing myself, so it is feels difficult for me to offer advice. At the end of the day, as simple as this may sound, I think it is a lot about balance and following your intuition on the best strategy for overcoming the different challenges you will face.
Sometimes you need to be patient and practice acceptance, others you need to push hard. You have to be yourself; but try also to adapt or blend in when this will be beneficial for you. And always work very hard, study, be prepared for meetings and seize opportunities you are given to show your value.
Advice for returning to study
In such a competitive market we must always reinvent ourselves. Learning is growing and it’s an essential part of a successful career. Besides teaching us what we don’t know, it brings us to a different perspective: the observer, the listener. And that will be key when later on you have the chance to act and speak out.
If you do return to study, enjoy it! Working life is not easy, and life overall can become even busier when you have a family, for example. The AISTS Master comes with additional advantages, such as the incredible cultural exchange between the participants and alumni, as well as being immersed in the lovely city of Lausanne.
“Having the chance – and the time – to go back to classroom, learn, study, discover new trends and meet new people is a wonderful opportunity and an experience you will miss once you are back to your working life. Make the most of it!”