Football’s collective governing bodies have always had a way of shooting themselves in the foot, none more so than FIFA itself which consistently manages to make the job of running the world’s most popular sport seem like a study in inefficiency, poor practice and downright ineptitude. In few places has this seemed more in evidence than in its treatment of women, both in the game and at the administrative level, leading to scenes such as these at last year’s Olympic Women’s Football final.
Yesterday, however, for the first time in its 109-year history, FIFA took the ‘bold’ step of electing a woman to its Executive Committee, when Lydia Nsekera was welcomed into the elite of the international governing body formally, where she has been co-opted for the last 12 months. On the face of it, a small victory in a male dominated world. Yet somehow, it feels hollow.
Behind the FIFA-endorsed back patting, another thread in the tale exists. At the same time as Nsekera’s election, two further women were co-opted to the Committee for a 12 month stretch; Sonia Bien-Aime of the Turks and Calcos Islands, and Australian Moya Dodd. Both overwhelmingly strong appointments in their own right, and in the case of the latter in particular, a significant school of thought suggests it ought to have been she, rather than Nsekera, who won the 4-year nomination.
Dodd’s credentials, first and foremost, are exemplary. A practising legal professional (she is a Partner in Australian firm Gilbert + Tobin), Dodd sits as Vice President of the Asian Football Confederations and understands in granular detail the operational minutiae of football governance. Oh, and she happens to be an ex-footballer as well, her playing career reaching a pinnacle with 5 years as vice captain of the Australian national team before a career-ending injury in the early 90s. Since that point, Dodd’s rise to the head of governance has been understated, but carefully managed. Backed by Frank Lowy, Chairman of the Football Federation Australia, her prominence amongst one of football’s more forward thinking governing bodies has enabled Dodd to back such critical directives as the overturning of the ban on female players wearing the Hijab, a move seen as crucial in not alienating the Muslim populace from women’s football.
Dodd’s platform for the Fifa ExCo election included policies focussed on improved governance, inclusion for all and a football over politics mandate. Issues which, theoretically, should be at the heart of the entire FIFA mission.
Nsekera, meanwhile, represents only a marginal departure from the status quo and – more disconcertingly – another ally for Blatter. As pointed out by one FIFA source, according to the Guardian yesterday, ‘Nsekera was personally chosen by Blatter’ and her appointment strengthens the hand of a man whose way of welcoming women to the ExCo included an invitation to ‘say something ladies, you are always speaking at home, now you can speak here’. This, after he had earlier described Dodd as ‘good, and good looking’. Despite this, Nsekera is no slouch, nor should she be considered a stooge for Blatter and FIFA’s self-congratulation. As President of the Burundi FA and a member of the International Olympic Committee, she clearly understands and possesses a significant degree of comfort in the inner workings of international sporting bodies. She should, of course, be welcomed as a history maker in her own right.
Today is a day we really ought to be celebrating. The introduction of a woman as a full member of the ExCo is a huge step for women in sporting governance and – hopefully – for women’s football as a whole. Yet somehow, it feels like just another predictable step in the on-going cosiness of the echelons of footballing politics. And that’s nothing to celebrate at all.
Image from moyadoddfootball.com – Thanks!