Female Problems

Over the last few years, Sepp Blatter and FIFA have striven mightily to let everyone know that racism and sexism have no place in modern football and that eliminating both these -ism's is their top priority.

With regard to the former, their campaign has been so successful that many times, when they demand that opposing team captains pose with "No to Racism" signs and read FIFA-prescribed pleas for "respect" over the PA system, in many places the fans show their due respect by refraining from tossing bananas and making monkey noises until the ceremony is over.

Real progress, no doubt about it.

Incredibly, they don't even seem to notice the inherent contradiction between - to pick an example entirely at random - their "No to Racism" campaign and the fact that they went ahead and awarded the 2018 World Cup to the one nation which regularly provides the ugliest and most egregious examples of racist abuse by fans towards black players, proving that human rights and human dignity are all well and good but in the end, rubles talk.

In any case, FIFA's ace on this issue has always been the large number of black people in their governance structure and particularly the all-important Executive Committee, which is of course a function of the fact that the CAF and the Caribbean constituency of CONCACAF tend to elect people who look like them.

Unfortunately, this ready-made justification provides a good deal of window dressing - greed and avarice knowing no racial boundaries - for what is in reality an exercise in raw politics: there are powerful black men on the ExCo  and a substantial number of black voters in the Congress  and they rightfully demand their due respect.

Women in footballing, on the other hand, face two enormous problems:

The first is that they don't generate money.

The Women's World Cup, just like the U 17's or U 21's or the rest of them, is still heavily subsidized by profits generated by the FIFA World Cup.

Like a teenager coming to Mom and Dad for an allowance, it's hard to start making a lot of demands. Now of course FIFA expects the women's side to become a money maker sometime in the future - which is why they promote it so strongly - but right now, and for the immediate future, it's a red ink entry.

The other factor is simple geography, or rather, the lack thereof:

moya dodd.jpg


Until the Confederations start electing women to the ExCo - and even Blatter publicly admits that there's just no chance of that happening - there are literally no female-type people with real power in the halls of FIFA.

Or there weren't until FIFA began their much heralded "reform process".

One of the few recommendations which Sepp Blatter agreed to enact was putting a woman on the ExCo.

(Most of the other recommendations, like age and term limits, did not go over well with the 78 year old Blatter who is hoping for a fifth term.)

The Executive Committee appointed - they call it "co-opting" - Lydia Nsekera from Burundi (she's a princess, but not exactly the "Will and Kate" kind; she owns and runs a car repair shop) to serve for a year, after which the Congress would elect someone to a regular four year term.

Nsekera made the CAF happy since she gave Africa an extra ExCo vote, but she was chosen mostly because Sepp Blatter wanted her.

To be clear, Nsekera earned it: she took over the Burundi FA about ten years ago at Blatter's behest as the price for ending a long national team suspension. She cleaned up a huge ugly mess of corruption and bitter acrimony  (FIFA suspended them for a couple of years over it all) and Sepp gave her a $400,000 office building as a thank you.

Still, as competent as she may be, her biggest attribute is her absolute loyalty to Sepp personally. Whatever her professional attributes, there was never any chance of her rocking the FIFA boat.

In 2013, FIFA's General Congress elected her to a regular seat over Asian Confederation VP Moya Dodd of Australia and CONCACAF's Sonia Bien-Aime, General Secretary of the Turks & Caicos FA.

Sonia Bien-Aime.jpg

 

(The latter has since become the first female member of CONCACAF's Executive Committee. She's young and bright and someone to keep an eye on.)

The runup to the vote became something of a comedy courtesy of Sepp, largely due to how utterly clueless he is.

First he spoke to the delegates from Asia, telling them that as a candidate Dodd was "good, and good-looking", a remark which left a lot of FIFA functionaries looking for windows to jump out of.

Later he doubled down on stupid when he told a group: "Say something ladies, you are always speaking at home, now you can speak here.".

After the vote, one delegate said: "Frankly Moya Dodd, who is a practicing lawyer, would have been a far better choice, especially with the continuing reform process Fifa has implemented, but Nsekera was personally chosen by president Blatter last year and the status quo has been maintained for obvious reasons."

Another added: "The whole system was flawed from the beginning and I am very disappointed with this decision … Everyone is pandering to the African vote."

Shortly thereafter, the process mandating that two more women be "co-opted" onto the ExCo for renewable one year terms, both Dodd and Bien-Aime were seated.

And that's when the trouble began.

Under the leadership of now-disgraced former President Mohammad bin Hammam, the AFC was quite progressive in many ways, and one of his reforms was the establishment of a Confederation Vice Presidency for Women's Football.

In 2009, Moya Dodd, a former Australia national team player and FA official, was elected to fill that VP spot, making her the highest ranking woman in the sport worldwide.

So when she was nominated by her Confederation and later named to the ExCo, she wasn't beholden to Sepp Blatter and didn't feel the need to toe the line like a good girl.

So, for example, as a longtime champion of gay and lesbian equality in sport, she has spoken out against Qatar's law making homosexual contact punishable by imprisonment and lashing.

Subsequently, Dodd and Prince Ali of Jordan led the fight that resulted in FIFA allowing Muslim women to wear head covering on the field, thus allowing them the opportunity to play that they were otherwise being denied.

And when a pair of $24,000 watches showed up in ExCo goodie bags in Brazil, the three members who returned them and reported it were Ali of Jordan, Sunil Gulati and Moya Dodd.

And when FIFA announced that they would not be making the results of their ethics probe of Russia and Qatar public, four ExCo members went to the media with their objections: Boyce of Ireland, Webb of CONCACAF (and the Cayman Islands), Prince Ali and Moya Dodd.

What's more, Dodd refuses to accept second class status. As she said just the other day “Women’s football is seen as the growth engine of the game”.

“To have the world’s most popular game accessible by only half of the world’s population is not an equilibrium, it is not a sustainable position", adding:

“Football was a game for men for so long that opening it up to women requires conscious effort in all of those areas: grassroots, leagues, coaching, off-field and commercial development.”

So she had established herself as an independent voice even before last summer when, to everyone's horror, she flew into Teheran and, in a public address, told the Mullahs that they are wrong to prohibit women from attending football matches. Needless to say, the Iranian authorities were not amused.

And at FIFA "independent voice" is another word for "traitor".

Of course, despite what Blatter keeps trying to convince everyone, FIFA has a real problem with female authority.

So, for example, when the independent expert who headed the panel which made the ethics proposals sent the ExCo a list of candidates for head of the investigation (the job which eventually went to American attorney Michael Garcia) they quickly rejected both of the female candidates without even looking at their credentials.

Blatter says the reason was that, "unfortunately", some regions of the world are not as progressive as he himself is and wouldn't "accept" a woman or give her "respect".

To which we can only say "too bloody bad". It would have been a good lesson in joining the modern world if FIFA had told them to like it or lump it and that "if you don't give her 100% cooperation we're cutting off the money".  They wouldn't have had much choice.

As one FIFA insider said privately: "The real reason they rejected them is that they weren't about to take any guff from some skirt".

Fortunately for Blatter, bin Hammam's successor as President of the AFC is on the case and is about to rid him of this woman who doesn't seem to know her place.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain has his own agenda which, like his predecessor's, probably includes replacing his close personal friend and ally Sepp some day,but for now the two of them are as close as close can be.

Al Khalifa's main problem is that the AFC constitution splits out the Presidency of the Confederation from the FIFA ExCo seat (and vice presidency) to which they are entitled.

So currently, that ExCo VP spot is held by Prince Ali of Jordan. The same guy mentioned above as being unwilling to shut up about FIFA corruption and also, not coincidentally, the guy many people- including reportedly UEFA President Micheal Platini - hope to see running against Sepp Blatter this coming May.

So Al Khalifa has come up with a plan to solve the problem: next month, at a "Extraordinary Congress" of the AFC in - irony alert - Australia, he's going to have the constitution rewritten.

The first order of business is to give the President of the AFC the ExCo seat instead of having it separate, expanding his own power and eliminating a thorn - and possibly a competitor - from Blatter's paw.

The second big change will be to eliminate the dedicated Women's Vice Presidency, stripping Moya Dodd of her job and, almost certainly, her re-election to the ExCo this Spring.

Sepp wins again.