Meet the Match

A Frenchwoman Advocates for the Power of Sport Worldwide

Carole Ponchon was raised in the small, rural village of Haute-Rivoire in France, where she lived the ideal childhood. There was only one problem: children could not join soccer leagues in Haute-Rivoire until age 6.

Although Carole traveled the world through her endless book collection, she had her eyes set on the soccer field. When she was old enough, her mother signed her up for the local club, where she was one of the only girls among the boys. It was on the soccer field where Carole, the shy bookworm, transformed into Carole, the relentless competitor.

“Football was a way of expressing the wild part of me,” Carole says. “I was very quiet and introverted, but on the field I was a different person. Football helped me show people—and, more importantly, myself—that I could do anything. I never felt stronger then when I would hear parents shouting from the sidelines, ‘C’mon don’t get beaten by a girl!’”

Carole played as a defender on mixed-gender teams until she turned 13, when she joined a women’s soccer team in another village, competing as a goalkeeper with players who were in their twenties and thirties. She retired from playing five years ago, but the significant impact sport made on her life was enough that she dedicated her entire career to it.

In 2009, Carole completed master’s degrees in marketing and management from the Groupe ESC Troyes Champagne School of Management, and sports management from the Troyes University of Technology. For four years, she worked as the European project leader for the Sport and Citizenship Think Tank, and in 2013 founded her own company, BeInnovActiv, an exchange platform for sports programmers, practitioners, and advocates.

“In society, showing your strength is vital for men,” Carole says. “But, sports help women and girls to also show their own strength. Practicing sport as a woman, even if you don’t realize it, you gain knowledge of your inner-self, get out of your shell, and open minds and boundaries.”

Carole is currently the public relations and projects manager for the European Observatoire of Sports and Employment (EOSE), an international organization building bridges between education, employment, sport and physical activity. Together with her colleagues, she works with clubs and federations across Europe, identifying needs and providing skills development training programs for volunteers and employees. EOSE currently runs a sports administration project with Tennis Europe, the European Federation of Company Sports, and the International Sports and Culture Association.

Ranked 17th in the world in gender equality, and first in both educational attainment and women’s health, according to the Global Gender Gap Index, it is easy to believe gender issues still exist in France. Women’s sports coverage remains minimal, despite government funding that has seen it increase from 7 to 15 percent since 2013. At the same time, many women who want to pursue sports are faced with two prominent boundaries: a glass ceiling of opportunity and an imbalance of family responsibility.

“In Western societies, we tend to believe gender inequality exists in developing countries,” Carole says. “But in our own homes we don’t see what is happening. We don’t notice comments from journalists at sports events are not the same for men and women. We ignore the body image issues and the pressure for women athletes to be one way.”

If French society places a greater value on sport, Carole is certain it would lead to a positive impact for the country’s women. She seeks to create a platform to increase the connection between education, civic duties, and sports; demonstrating to others how sport provides a significant and measurable impact in the lives of women and men.

“Right now, you could put on your CV that you’ve been a basketball player for 10 years,” Carole explains, “but if the person in front of you doesn’t have a sports background they don’t realize what that means. They don’t realize that because of sports you’ve acquired self-esteem, confidence, respect for rules and others, teamwork, dealing with success and failures—all these soft skills that are transferrable to daily and work life.”

During her time on the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Carole was based at the Women’s Sports Foundation, the ideal place for a woman with her level of experience in gender and sports issues. She is mentored by CEO Deborah Antoine, a longtime champion of social change through sports, who previously led the largest tennis and education program in the United States—New York Junior Tennis & Learning—, which serves more than 75,000 children. Deborah provides Carole with important resources to develop skills in public campaigns and advocacy, innovative CSR strategies, and sports governance. Together, these two women work to demonstrate the power of sport to create a fuller, healthier society in France and beyond.

Mentor Match