At the time of this writing, Athlete Ally’s founder and executive director Hudson Taylor will be traveling to Zurich, Switzerland the end of February to meet with FIFA committee members, anti-discrimination advisors and FIFA communication staff regarding what the organization is doing to end homophobia on the pitch and in the stands.
The conversation will also center on supporting the February 26 passage of the reform recommendations made by the 2016 FIFA reform committee as the full group meets for their 2016 Extraordinary FIFA Congress. At this landmark occasion the member associations will vote both for a new FIFA president and for crucial reforms to improve the governance, transparency and culture of the organization as a whole, specifically around accountability and diversity.
FIFA, the worldwide governing body for football (better known in the U.S. as soccer), was founded in Zurich in 1904 and over the years has grown into the world’s most popular sport. But it’s also one that is just now coming out of the depths of a huge international scandal that included charges of wire-fraud, money laundering and racketeering leading to several top leaders being forced out. As the organization begins to pick up the pieces, one of the most important points in the full slate of proposed reforms put forth by the FIFA executive committee is to finally address giving women a greater role in the organization’s decision making.
Soccer is a male-dominated sport that didn’t even recognize women as part of the game until the 1990s. With the growing popularity of women’s soccer in the U.S., inclusion of women may not seem like much of an issue to the average sports fans here. But that is primarily due to the success over the past 40+ years of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation that ensures equal participation opportunities in sports for both genders.
Moya Dodd, a retired member of the Australian women’s national soccer team who is now one of three women on the executive committee, has added a proposal to increase the number of women on FIFA’s top decision-making committee. That would change it from one female voting member out of 25 today to six women out of 37 members. It also includes a statute that FIFA must develop women’s soccer on a global scale and promote full participation of women at all levels of the sport, both on and off the field.
This is, indeed, a groundbreaking moment. And the hash tag # WomenInFIFA has turned into a rallying cry by Athlete Ally with its open letter that calls for more women within FIFA’s governing body. Almost 1,500 individuals have signed this letter – many of them elite athletes that, according to Taylor, include: Olympic medalists – 51 gold, 19 silver and 11 bronze winners; World Championship medalists – 29 gold, 23 silver and 6 bronze winners; PanAm medalists – 12 gold, 6 silver and 3 bronze winners; and World Cup medalists – 17 gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze winners.
In part, the letter mentions that numerous studies provide evidence that diversity within an organization, one that is gender-balanced, delivers better decisions, the organization itself performs better and the severity and frequency of fraud is reduced. But it also cautions that critical mass is essential, noting that boardroom diversity advocates place the recommended number of women to at least 30 percent of the overall group. At that point, the culture shifts away from women being a special interest group to becoming part of the normalized mainstream.
To achieve a gender balance within the organization, the FIFA Congress must vote to pass these gender equality reforms on the 26th – a vote that will require 75 percent support from a governing body that consists of 207 men and two women. This is a time for FIFA to regain its reputation and the public trust it has lost by actively resourcing participation opportunities for women and girls at all levels of the sport as part of its overall reform package. It is time for FIFA to become a positive change agent not only within the world of soccer but as the most popular sport worldwide, to become a world leader in diversity and inclusion in sport.
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