It is astonishing that in 2012 there are still those who question whether women have any place in world soccer.
It is not merely a question of the objective quality of the women's game. Arguments about men's innate physical superiority in strength and speed seem bound to endure—though whether those factors necessarily make for "better" soccer remains open to debate.
Earlier this year, the BBC aired a documentary called Sexism in Football? examining how women working at all levels of the game—executives, journalists, officials—have experienced exclusion, animosity and harassment in what continues to be a sometimes hostile environment.
But despite the game's seemingly profound conservatism, its culture is inevitably changing to reflect a more balanced and diverse society.
More and more women attend matches, play the game and work within the industry.
Here are 10 of the most influential women in soccer.
10. Gabby Logan
The host of Sexism in Football?, BBC Sport presenter Gabby Logan is one of the most prominent women in soccer media.
9. Hope Powell
The long-time England and Great Britain women's national team coach was the first woman to achieve the UEFA Pro Licence coaching credential.
8. Steffi Jones
Former German international Steffi Jones was in charge of organising the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany and acts as a FIFA global ambassador for the women's game.
7. Pia Sundhage
The former U.S. women's national team head coach, currently in charge of her native Sweden, is one of the premier women coaches in the game.
6. Karen Espelund
Espelund is Europe's highest-ranking female administrator, serving on UEFA's Executive Committee as well as representing the confederation on the FIFA Women's World Cup and Football Committees.
5. Kathy Carter
As President of Soccer United Marketing, Kathy Carter is responsible for the commercial and marketing operations of the MLS.
4. Mia Hamm
Every sport occasionally produces a transcendent figure whose sheer excellence reaches across the gap to non-enthusiasts. David Beckham, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods—all elevated their sports through a unique combination of athletic prowess and public appeal.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, women's soccer had the quintessential transcendent athlete in Mia Hamm.
The star striker's name is synonymous with the golden era of American women's soccer, when Hamm led her team to two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals, liberally gathering individual honours and records along the way, including the most international goals scored in either men's or women's football.
Perhaps most significant, though, was Hamm's impact on bringing the women's game firmly into the mainstream.
Her stature as a public sports figure was confirmed by Nike's groundbreaking ad campaign pairing her with Michael Jordan.
Hamm's enduring influence was recognised in 2012 when ESPN named her the top female athlete of the last 40 years, ahead of such legends as Martina Navratilova and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
3. Julie Foudy
A teammate of Hamm's and another key member of 1999 World Cup-winning U.S. women's national team, Julie Foudy has maintained a high profile in the game, providing television commentary for men's and women's international matches and the MLS.
In 2006, the former USWNT co-captain founded the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy, a residential soccer camp for girls, which has since expanded with a lacrosse programme.
Both through the academy and as an exemplary ex-pro and prominent media voice, Foudy has established herself as one of soccer's most important female figures.
2. Karren Brady
Despite a somewhat polarising public persona, Karren Brady's career as a football executive represents a quantum leap forward for women in the sport at boardroom level.
Named managing director of Birmingham City at the age of 23, Brady regularly appears among lists of the business community's power leaders.
In her current role as vice chairman at West Ham United, Brady was recently named CEO of the Year by leading football industry magazine fcbusiness.
Brady's high profile—not least due to her Apprentice appearances and her Sun column—ensures an invaluable visibility for women executives in a field traditionally dominated overwhelmingly by men.
1. Lydia Nsekera
In May 2012, FIFA made Lydia Nsekera of Burundi the first woman to serve on the world football governing body's Executive Committee, making her the highest-ranking woman in the game.
Nsekera was elected president of the Burundi Football Federation in 2004. A longtime supporter and administrator, Nsekera has ruled ever since—some say with an iron fist, according to Tanzania's The Citizen newspaper, dubbing her "the Thatcher of Burundian football."
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