It’s been quite a year for FIFA. Bribes, embezzlement, raids, arrests, intransigent leaders refusing to admit wrongdoing — even the Women’s World Cup and its record-breaking audiences were marred by the fact that FIFA forced the women to play on turf, something men’s teams are never made to do. As all of its faults are laid bare and the reform process begins, the movement to bring more women into global soccer’s overwhelmingly male governing body senses its opening.
“I really feel it’s now or never,” Julie Foudy, two-time World Cup champion and 17-year veteran of the U.S. Women’s National Team, told ThinkProgress. “We have this incredible opportunity to do something here.”
With FIFA’s reform committee meeting Friday in Zurich, more than 100 athletes — from Greg Louganis to Alex Morgan — along with numerous organizations, coaches, and managers have signed on to a letter calling on FIFA to bring more women into its ranks. Specifically, they’re asking for the percentage of women on the Executive Committee to be immediately increased to 30 percent and for all stakeholders to be required to address the imbalance in funding between men’s and women’s teams.
“Sports can inspire entire nations and it is time for our governing organizations to reflect the important role women must play in charting a course toward greater transparency and opportunity for all,” USWNT superstar Abby Wambach told ThinkProgress in a statement, describing the #WomenInFIFA movement as a “call to action.”
That call is rooted in a proposal drafted by Moya Dodd, one of only three women on FIFA’s Executive Committee (the first woman wasn’t formally voted onto the committee until 2013). When it comes to identifying the problem and what needs to change within FIFA, Dodd doesn’t hold back, calling out “what is perhaps the most profound, long-standing, and systemic injustice in sport.”
Dodd, a former professional soccer player herself, explained that she was happy to take these recommendations to François Carrard, the head of the reform committee, because she’s seen how under-representation and disparate funding hold women back. Amid the cacophony of voices calling for change, the challenge lies in making sure the reform committee prioritizes gender imbalance.
Thus, Dodd argues for her recommendations based not on the fact that it’s the feel-good thing to do, but that it’s the smart thing to do for the success of the frequently maligned organization.
“Better gender balance will also improve FIFA on a lot of measures, including governance and integrity,” she said via email. “So it’s not ‘just’ a women’s issue. It’s a good governance issue, and will improve the game as a whole.”
As far as the status and treatment of women in football is concerned, there is vast room for improvement. Only 8 percent of national soccer boards around the world are women and just 7 percent of registered coaches are female. Within FIFA, only two of its 209 member association presidents are women and there’s just one woman on the 13-person reform committee.
The global funding and development picture isn’t much better. “Perhaps the most evident hallmark of the women’s game is its systematic under-resourcing throughout the world,” Dodd writes in her proposal. This summer, FIFA announced $22 million in funding over the next four years to foster the development of women’s soccer, a sum that’s diminished by the context in which it appears: FIFA brought in $2 billion last year and has committed to spending $900 million through 2018 on the men’s game.
The lead-up to the Women’s World Cup and the entirety of the tournament were littered with stories of the lengths to which women across the globe were forced to go in order to make it to their sport’s premier event. Teams from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica resorted to crowdfunding and other forms of outside financial support to make it through qualifying. Ivory Coast’s manager used the world stage to plead for more funding, asking for her team to receive just half the resources the men do.
There are so many federations now that just don’t care.
The disparity caught the attention of the American public (and members of Congress) when the U.S. women won the tournament and were paid $2 million in prize money, a stark contrast to the $35 million the German men received for winning their tournament last year.
Not only does FIFA need to step up its own commitment to funding and development of the women’s game, but it also has to hold the federations accountable for doing the same in a transparent way, Foudy said. If FIFA’s new president chose to prioritize representation and development as a key component of the reform process, “the implications are big,” she explained. “There are so many federations now that just don’t care.”
Across the board, women’s sports are struggling to overcome generations of marginalization and neglect — a longstanding disadvantage that plays out in numerous ways today, from funding and development to marketing and press coverage. No one change on FIFA’s behalf will correct the imbalance in the world’s game but, as women’s soccer reaches previously unseen levels of popularity, all of the advocates emphasize that prioritizing the recommended reforms now isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a wise business move as well.
“To put it in perspective, women were banned from taking part in football for decades in many countries. Because women couldn’t play, they also lost equity in other roles and in leadership,” Dodd said. “Football has an entire disenfranchised female constituency — under-represented and under-resourced — basically pressing their noses up against the glass from the outside.
“For so long as I’m in FIFA, it’s my job to do something about that.”