Kimberly Fernandez is a National Level Footballer and a Businesswoman with extensive experience in Sports Event Management and Entrepreneurship. Her skills in a football game and managing a sports event are attracting worldwide eyeballs on her as well as her company Zars Sports.
I recently had an opportunity to interact with Kimberly over an interview. Let’s dive into Kimberly’s life and learn a few things about her.
- Hi Kimberly, Please introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us about your academic and professional life.
Hey, I’m Kimberly Fernandez, a 23-year-old, semi-professional footballer, and a first-generation entrepreneur. In 2018 along with my partner Nigel D’souza, we founded “Zars Sports”. Prior to setting up Zars Sports, I had experience working with a couple of other companies, some of which were Star India Pvt.Ltd, which is the top broadcasting company in India. I worked as an Associate with their Brand Experience and Events team for a year. I had previously also worked with consultancies, which handled sports events. A huge eye-opener for me was working for the FIFA U17 World Cup 2017, which sowed the seeds of excitement and curiosity in me, I wanted to further explore what the sports industry had to offer and the many opportunities it presented.
Before I began my professional career, I graduated from one of the best colleges in Mumbai (and arguably in India too), St. Xavier’s College, with a Bachelor’s degree in Management Studies. While in college, I always played, and it wasn’t just football. I represented my college in hockey, handball, table tennis, and even athletics and captained the college Football and Basketball teams. I have been playing since I was five years old. I am fortunate to come from a family of sportspersons, my father is a football coach (and was a national level footballer himself) and my mother is a basketball coach, and she is also the Vice-Principal of the school I studied in as well. I think it’s interesting to know I have never trained professionally. I grew up playing with all the boys that my dad coached. 10–15 years ago, there were very few girls that were playing football, at least around where I grew up. That’s how my journey in football started, and I am still playing and also working professionally in football. So, being able to play and give back to the sport is a very enriching experience for me.
2. You are a professional footballer. Can you share how your journey started with being an athlete and representing teams on a national level?
My school didn’t have a girl’s football team until I was in class 7. A lot of us would play inter-house football games and I think our PTI’s realized we were good and that when we were able to persuade them to create a team and allow us to participate in some inter-school tournaments. This team represented the school in every sport we participated in.
I started playing competitive football very late, and after my very first tournament, I got called up for selections for the Maharashtra state team. From there on, I have been playing professionally for U18, U19, and three years for the Senior Maharashtra Women’s team at the All India Tournaments that are held annually. While in college, I also played for Mumbai University in the All India University Tournaments for both football and basketball. Since the inception of the Indian Women's League, I have actively participated in the league as well, I have also captained the Mumbai at our inter-district championships and I captain my club — Bodyline Sports Club, which is one of the oldest most well-known women's clubs here in Mumbai.
3. You were also part of the FIFA awards 2019, which happened in Italy, and you were the only Indian at the Awards night. How was the experience?
Firstly, I wasn’t the only Indian at the awards. The Technical Directors and Coaches of all the countries that had women's teams were also present and Maymol Rocky Ma’am, being the Indian National team’s Coach, was also present at the awards night, I also had the privilege to meet and speak with her at the event!
It was one of a kind experience and I can't really put into words what it was like to have that experience. I was very fortunate to have met the world’s most prominent footballers and coaches and interact with them. Getting to meet Jose Mourinho, Pochettino, and also the highlight of my whole year (maybe even my life) I was able to meet and got a picture with Lionel Messi. It really was an Insane experience. It also was the night of my birthday, a birthday that I will never forget!
4. In India, we still see that not many girls opt for sports. There’s always a gender imbalance in the sports industry. How would you like to change this scenario?
If compared to the number of men that play football, there aren’t enough women or young girls who are playing. Sarai Bareman — FIIFA Chief of Women’s Football, rightly said,
“ It’s not one thing or one aspect that can change this. There are pillars of football, and all of them need to be addressed and developed together — and that is what is going to help us develop the women’s game.”
Therefore I believe that we can’t only look at wanting to grow the numbers of girls or women that we train. We may train a hundred thousand girls, but we need to then also create enough opportunities for these girls to play and to have game time. We need to have them play as many tournaments as they can, all year round. We also need to incentivize or convince companies and brands to invest in the women’s sport and most importantly we as fans of the game need to step up and show up to women's games, support local teams because honestly, brands will turn to where there are big audiences. That’s why I very strongly believe that we all need to contribute equally in our own ways — to grow the sport. When I was growing up, I never had anyone to look up to as an idol (a woman in football or an Indian footballer), due to lack of coverage and information. Today, we are heading towards a world where women's football is being covered on tv, we are able to follow the lives of female footballers on social media, young girls now, do have idols to look up to, and that’s what we need to build towards.
With FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup & AFC Women’s Championship scheduled to be held in India, we are moving in the right direction and we are moving fast.
5. So you and Nigel started a sports management company Zars Sports, in 2018. Can you tell us more about your company?
Honestly, I had little to no background in business except for what I studied theoretically. My family is and has been in the field of education and that’s all I knew about. But I owe it all to Nigel, who has been a huge guide and is very instrumental in all that we have accomplished as Zars Sports today, he works behind the scenes but he is a very integral part of the business.
Prior to setting up Zars Sports, while I was working — I had a regular 9 to 5 job at an incredible company, which really gave me an insight into the world of business. However, while working for such a huge MNC I honestly felt like the work I was doing might have been insignificant like I was dispensable. I wanted the work I was doing to be impactful and most importantly I wanted to be working in the field of sports. That’s when, with a push and words of encouragement from Nigel, we decided to set up Zars Sports.
6. What are some of the projects that Zars Sports has accomplished?
We initially began by organizing local tournaments and events; we soon transitioned into hosting events at a national scale in multiple cities and for one of the biggest sporting goods companies — Decathlon. That’s not all, in our first year in operation we also signed with a global agency and were presented with the rights to host the Indian leg of the F5WC, which is a 5-a-side amateur football tournament. We hosted events across the country and flew to South Africa for the world finals with team India. We also set up our first grassroots football development center in Mumbai and soon scaled to 6 other centers within 4 months.
Our mission is to build a team of female coaches; our team of coaches is 100% female and is working towards creating more job opportunities for women in the administrative end as well.
Currently, due to the pandemic, we were able to provide football-based strength conditioning & fitness and skill enhancement programs to our kids. We have several batches that run from morning to evening. When the lockdown started, we had no idea how long the situation was going to last? So we started with online sessions in March, and we continue to do so in August because kids have such high energy, and we wanted to make sure that we were able to keep them active and provide them with a healthy outlet to channelize that energy — through our online sessions during this lockdown. We also delivered sessions to schools in Bihar, Assam, and Haryana.
7. While managing an event, what are some of the significant issues you have faced? How did you handle it?
There are a whole lot of issues when it comes to managing an event, and the solution to every bit of it depends on the nature of the problem. A few important skills to have would be, “People Skills.” Knowing how to work with and manage people is one important skill to have. If you don’t know how to manage your team on the event day, you are practically doomed. The team is the soul of any event, and executing tasks is a responsibility the whole team should take on. Everyone needs to know what their job is, and they must be able to complete the given task on time.
Secondly, it all boils down to “Planning.” Everything had to be planned right, rehearsed down to the T. But you still can never be fully prepared, but with a proper mindset, you can always plan for your mistakes. Have a backup plan for everything. Events are fascinating, entertaining, but they are also very nerve-wracking to do.
8. COVID 19 situation has brought the whole sports industry to a standstill. What do you miss the most about working in sports events?
I don’t miss working on an event because my team and I are very content in the space we are right now. After all, we can work with our kids online. We have shifted our focus from events to developing sport — currently through our online sessions.
9. What are the essential skills you think people should have to join the sports Industry?
The Sports Industry is massive in itself. For someone who’s looking to get into the sports industry, first, one should research what the potential opportunities are, and second, try your hand at the many opportunities before fixing your focus on one.
Through my personal experience, while in college, I did a lot of internships. I didn’t bury my focus on a certain role or department, instead, I tried my hand at marketing, grassroots programs, events, and many more fields. I didn’t limit myself to only one. I got into everything and then tried to figure out what I would like to do in the sports industry, and I think that is very important. The sports industry is growing every single day, and with opportunities growing even more significant, it’s straightforward to dive in and even easier to get lost on the way. So it becomes imperative to find your niche and stay focused.
10. Any message you would like to give our audience, especially women?
What I’ve recently been saying to others, but have been saying to myself for years — ‘Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way, and if you don’t see any opportunities — you go create some!’
Whether you are a man or a woman, and wherever you are, nothing should limit you from doing what you want to do. You are the only one that will take you to the place you want to be or stop you from getting there. People are going to talk and say things whether you are doing well or not doing well for yourself. Whether you want to be a CEO or want to achieve the topmost position in the sports industry, nothing can define what you can or cannot do except you, your abilities, and your drive to conquer your goals.