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FIFA: Could a woman fix football's world governing body?

FIFA: Could a woman fix football's world governing body? Featured

It may seem a preposterous suggestion to many, given its historically male hierarchy -- but what if FIFA were run by a woman?

World football's governing body -- like the United States, for instance -- has never had a female leader.

But where the two differ is that FIFA has never even had a female candidate.

As the organisation battles the greatest crisis in its 112- year history, even the men in suits are beginning to appreciate that greater gender diversity might be a good thing.

FIFA's motto -- "for the game, for the world" -- doesn't really play out in practice. The global population is roughly split between men and women, whereas more than 99% of those voting for a new FIFA president on Friday will be men.

What if a woman had been in charge? What if someone like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, rather than Sepp Blatter, had been president?

"With her in charge, FIFA could become a well-esteemed sports organization where people discuss and argue under democratic standards," Karsten Kammholz, the deputy head of politics at German newspaper Die Welt, told CNN. "She would also get rid of corrupt colleagues."

 

We'll never know for sure, of course, but one expert on gender issues in business has no doubt that FIFA's men haven't helped themselves given that it has just two female presidents among its 209 member associations and had no women on its ExCo until four years ago.

"From an ethical point of view, it would have been beneficial," says Professor Michael Haselhuhn of the University of California, whose research suggests men are more prone to unethical behavior than women.

"I certainly think there would have been more of a discussion about whether the actions of the FIFA Executive Committee (ExCo) were wrong or right.

"From an ethical standpoint, I think having a woman could only benefit them [FIFA]. Of course, at this point, it seems that any change could only benefit."

 

FIFA's "Boys' Club" mentality is an environment ripe for wheeling and dealing behind closed doors, says Sierra Leone's Isha Johansen, one of the two female FA presidents.

"I think women, generally, do not give in to compromising on issues, especially when they affect state government and the youth," Johansen explains.

"Even in society in Sierra Leone, in the political and administrative strata, you see men tend to be more compromising -- and that gives way to lots of problems. That's what I find from my own experience.

"Men have ways of settling issues behind closed doors, over a drink... they find a way of dealing with issues. With women, if there is a grave decision to be made, a lot of them will make the right decision -- even if that makes them unpopular."

'It was all about who was your mate'

 

Australia's Bonita Mersiades, best known as a whistleblower for the controversial (and never-published) Michael Garcia report into possible corruption over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, shares that frustration.

She has never forgotten her first meeting when working as Head of Corporate Affairs for the Football Federation of Australia.

"I was used to an environment where people challenge each other on issues, not on personalities," she tells CNN. "But no one wanted to have the intellectual argument. It was all about who was your mate around the table."

Mersiades believes such a process arguably helped precipitate the worst scandal in FIFA's history, with 30-plus individuals having been charged or convicted for football-related corruption by American justice authorities.

 

"As many women around the world have got through the glass ceiling in politics in their countries, I think women will get through the 'grass ceiling' -- as I refer to it -- in football," she adds.

Later this week, two key proposals are expected to be ratified by FIFA's congress.

The first is that each of the six global confederations must have at least one woman on the new 37-person FIFA Council.

That would mean an organization that had never had a female executive until four years ago would soon have at least half a dozen.

It is already common practice in the business world where, studies show, Forbes 500 companies with the highest representation of female board directors achieve significantly higher financial success.

Congress is also expected to approve a new FIFA statute that will "promote the development of women's football and the full participation of women at all levels of football governance."

That's long overdue, some might say -- but these are not the only steps being taken.

FIFA Female Leadership Development Program

 

Last year, FIFA set up the Female Leadership Development Program with the aim of "developing strong female leaders" and "providing opportunities for women to access senior decision-making levels" in football.

The scheme came about after a 2014 survey set out the challenges facing women in football.

One of the findings, in a sea of inequality, was that only 8% of executive committee members in the world's 209 football federations were female.

"I think a lot of women have not seen themselves as leaders in football because of the constraints just to play the game, let alone lead," Mayi Cruz Blanco, FIFA Senior Women's Football Development Manager, tells CNN.

She cites the Middle East, Latin America and many parts of Africa as places in which girls still face a big challenge in playing football "either for social or cultural reasons."

"I really think that having more women in different positions in football will lead to more women in high ranks and hopefully, one day, a female president. I can't say if it will be different -- it depends on the human being," she adds.

 

But Cruz Blanco, who wants increased female participation in all sectors -- primarily playing, coaching and decision-making, says times are changing and cites the increased presence of women on the FIFA board and the growing number of role models as key.

The latter include Turkey's Ebru Koksal, the first woman to be elected onto the powerful European Clubs Association, MLS social media director Amanda Vandervort and New Zealand's Sarai Bareman, the only female on FIFA's Reform Committee.

Following the history-makers

 

Whichever woman becomes the first female FIFA president will follow other history-making females such as Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister, and Merkel.

The German Chancellor has twice been ranked by Forbes magazine as the world's second most powerful person -- a status no other woman has ever achieved -- and was named Person of 2015 by Time.

"She has always appeared more hardworking, ambitious and honest, but less narcissistic, than her male competitors," says Die Welt's Kammholz.

"A lot of Germans might have been surprised to get to know Mrs Merkel as a woman who seemed totally under control, always sticking to facts and logic."

Kammholz adds: "She does not flatter and cannot be flattered. Her body language is as restrained and passive as her language.

"In a political world where a lot of people strive for riches, she has only seemed interested in her job as a politician and the responsibility that goes with it."

Given FIFA's historical struggles to embrace powerful women, it's somewhat ironic that it was Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, whose Department of Justice launched the dawn raids on FIFA last May that sparked the governing body's crisis.

She spoke at the time of "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted" corruption within FIFA, and has since described its scale as "unconscionable."

Right now, her work -- and that of her department -- has already brought about seismic change, primarily the decapitation of FIFA's traditionally male leadership.

Having effectively sparked the push for further reform, and the proposal for at least six women on the FIFA Council, has Lynch also loosened the fibres of football's "grass ceiling"?

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