In November last year The Sports Integrity Initiative published a feature piece probing into the scarcity of women found in the top jobs of sporting administrations, including those in FIFA. Later this month the election for the top job, the President of arguably the most powerful sporting institution in the world, will take place with, currently, five contenders – all male – battling it out for the top job. Of these five, only Jérôme Champagne was willing to discuss the issues. Former Presidential candidate David Ginola was another keen to put forward his vision.
Amidst allegations of corruption corroborated by arrests and police investigations, questions as to why there are not more women in FIFA’s administration, and whether they could have had an impact on the alleged levels of corruption, are rife. Moya Dodd is Chair of the FIFA Task Force for Women’s Football and one of just three female members of the 25-member FIFA Executive Committee. In October she submitted a detailed plan to the FIFA Reform Committee on how to increase women’s participation in football. In it the Committee is ‘respectfully requested to recommend an immediate 20% presence of women on the FIFA Executive Committee’ and a long term target of 30%.
It’s a bold call, and in response the Reform Committee in December announced that ‘each Confederation shall have not less than one voting FIFA Council seat reserved for women’, ensuring that 17% of the FIFA Council, a ‘non-executive, supervisory and strategic’ body which will replace the FIFA Executive Committee, will be comprised of women.
It’s not quite the 20% that Dodd proposed, but it’s progress on the 12% of women previously at the top. Quotas aside, a reformed FIFA will need more than just numbers to show that it’s incorporating women in its decision-making – it will need a President and both the men and women on its Council to be willing to listen and enact those reforms.
Over the last few months the Sports Integrity Initiative has contacted the candidates for FIFA President, including those that have since withdrawn, asking how or if they propose to address the dearth of influence that women have at the top level.
Ever the diplomat
Jérôme Champagne, a career diplomat with organisational skills to match, was the first to publish his manifesto. He was also the first and only one of the five current Presidential candidates to agree to an interview. This is a similar situation to the one which Champagne found himself in last month when he was the only candidate to attend a forum for Presidential candidates at the European Parliament in Brussels, arranged by pressure group #NewFIFANow, but which the other candidates withdrew from after FIFA reportedly failed to clarify its elections rules regarding political interference.
While Champagne’s campaign lacks the profile, funding and governing body support of the likes of Gianni Infantino or Sheikh Salman, he has persistently shown on the campaign trail that he is willing to form a dialogue and openly discuss the issues affecting FIFA. For an institution marred in anti-corruption and cover-up investigations worldwide, Champagne’s openness is a refreshing step.
“I hate generalisation,” said Champagne, speaking exclusively to the Sports Integrity Initiative. “I don’t think that because of whatever the dividing line – whether passport, religion, colour of skin or sexual orientation – we are better or not.”
Champagne speaks articulately, each point colourfully reinforced by an anecdote, more often than not from his former career as a diplomat.
“I remember very well that I was posted in Cuba and I had to go to Panama,” recalls Champagne. “I remember the discussion with the French Ambassador in Panama at the time – in about 1985 – and he was telling me how more and more Panamean employers wanted to have more women in a lot of positions? Why?
“Because when they were paying the salaries, sometimes men were going out and disappearing from their positions for two-to-three days. Women, because they were taking care of kids, taking care of the households, taking care of the education, were steadier, more reliable and more consistent because they couldn’t spend their money on going out all the time.
“However, as I said I hate generalisations. But what I do believe is that we need more women inside the football administration. Not least because we have more and more women playing football – that is clear.
“I am a feminist. I am French and I remember the fight in the seventies for the right of abortion, the right to have a pill,” regales Champagne.
“I am a feminist,” he reiterates. “Definitely I think it is necessary. It is not automatic; you can have corrupt women like you have corrupt men.” It’s an important point; often the kneejerk reaction to the low numbers of women on the FIFA Executive Committee are that more women will unequivocally bring less corruption. It won’t, and Champagne stresses this early in the interview.
“But look at the fight for women’s rights,” continues Champagne. “And same thing for the fight for civil rights in the United States; the fight for women was also pushed by men and the fight for civil rights was also pushed by white people.”
The Champagne moment – women at every level
“I do believe that we need more women, because more and more women play the game, and in my programme, in my manifesto I was advocating for a quarter of the women at every level of football.”
“You have seen the FIFA Reform Committee have decided to have one women per confederation, which will represent six women out of 36 positions. One out of six is progress – close to 15% – but there is something missing in these reforms,” stresses Champagne.
“These reforms should be also enforced at every level, continental levels as well, and in individual countries. Not just on the executive committee – but everywhere.”
The proposal is far-reaching and will be hard to implement, but it’s well supported; Dodd’s submission to the Reform Committee called for the 20% of women in the Executive Committee (or Council) “to be mirrored within a reasonable time at all levels (Confederations, MAs, clubs, etc)”. “Reasonable time” was defined as “by 2018 (or next Congress thereafter)”. In Champagne’s view, this is not only feasible, but just the start.
“I come from a country in the middle of a delicate moment in French politics with the regional elections [which took place last December]. The French government has enforced total parity for the list of candidates. One woman, one man or one man, one woman. I am totally in favour.
“A quota does not mean that women can not be elected on the non quota positions as well,” adds Champagne. “I would personally favour more – I would personally favour 20%.”
Champagne however also raises a difficult but valid point. It’s all very well enforcing quotas in countries where women’s football is large and growing, but what of those where women’s football is hardly played – where women in football’s administration hardly exist?
“In some countries, they won’t be able to find 20% of positions from coming from football,” Champagne concedes. He advocates these positions being filled by women, but not necessarily those in football; the need for capable, competent women is greater than the need for those on the inside.
Women in clubs on and off the pitch
“If you look at the developments of the past twenty-five years or so in women’s football, we have immensely progressed,” says Champagne. Admitting that it may not be “politically correct” to say it, he credits Blatter with its rise in profile through the creation of the Women’s World Cup both at senior and age-group levels. But Champagne wants to dig below the representative tiers on the pitch. He believes that for women to be involved in running the game at domestic levels, they need to be playing it at this level too.
“I propose to create a Women’s Club World Cup,” said Champagne. This is not new; Champagne outlined this proposal when he first set out on a bid for the Presidency, almost two years ago. “I think we have immensely progressed in terms of national teams. But if you look at a country like Brazil, which has one of the best women’s teams in the world – they don’t have an actual league!”
“We need to progress. Of course during the first couple of years, considering the strength of women’s club football in Europe, it’s very likely that European club will become the World Champions at the beginning. But this creation of a World Championship will stimulate every federation around the world without a women’s league to create one.”
“When you create a competition you entice and you motivate the FA to improve their natural competitions.”
Is there a danger though that the talent will be diluted and that the expectation of such a high profile competition won’t be met on the field? Could that in turn detract from increasing the involvement of women in the game?
“It’s the same question for the development of men’s football,” says Champagne. “You have two ways if you want to develop football – bottom up and top down. You need both – the two of them.”
So a bit like a chicken and egg scenario – for one thing to happen you need something else, with neither necessarily being mutually exclusive?
“Yes – except I will attribute the comment of chicken to you as I don’t want to be accused of calling women chickens!” laughs Champagne.
“You are absolutely right though,” says Champagne. “It’s a Catch-22. For some federations, if you take my country, France, because France wanted to be involved in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, they said, ‘Let’s invest’. And they have invested. Without the creation of this competition the French wouldn’t have likely invested.
“At the same time for example if you look at the MLS [Major League Soccer, the men’s club competition in the USA], the MLS commissioner, Mr Don Garber, came up with a very good concept – that every MLS club should have a women’s team. We need to stimulate clubs.
“In Brazil, their women are among the best players. They don’t have a national league. That’s incredible.”
Top-down, bottom-up – Champagne want’s a combination of both. He’s a progressive and a self-pronounced feminist, with assertions that appear as sincere as they come. He plays strongly on his experience both in and outside football, with some worried that his previously strong ties to Blatter – albeit before being sacked by him – could play against him. Champagne is not perceived a front-runner, but even if he doesn’t win, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be listened to or enlisted to enact certain reforms.
Ginola: Hello from the other side
Other candidates in the FIFA Presidential Election race were less forthcoming than Champagne. In their manifestos too, references to women are at most perfunctory. “We need to really open up our game to the other half of the world,” gushes Sheikh Salman, before referring to vague details of a ‘development plan’ that needs ‘to actively resource participation opportunities for women’. Deciphering what this means is the first difficulty. Infantino too talks of ‘continued and intensified efforts’ to promote the women’s game, without specifying how.
David Ginola, on the other hand, who withdrew from the 2015 FIFA Presidential race in January after failing to gain the minimum five nominations, was quick to throw in his thoughts. Ginola, although ousted from the competition, is not averse to noting his opinions on FIFA and its development.
“FIFA currently is a men’s club,” said Ginola, speaking to The Sports Integrity Initiative. “Members tend to cover for each other especially when things go wrong. Bringing in more women will immediately change this dynamic, positively. I am sure that there are a great many women who could have done and could do a much better job, not just of accelerating the development of women in football. They were never even considered. We should try it.”
It’s a common sentiment – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. The Sports Integrity Initiative’s first feature on the topic concluded that women probably aren’t the fairer sex. Yet they’re different. After the events of the past year, it’s easy to wish for anything other than the status quo.
“The people in charge at FIFA, male gender, have not done the best job,” offers Ginola. As in any political sphere, it’s easy perhaps to criticise from the outside, and many have accused Ginola of doing just that. Unable to enter the old boys club, he withdrew from the 2015 FIFA Presidential race soon after he had entered after failing to gain the minimum five nominations – curt quips of this kind are easily perceived as simply those of a resentful nearly-man. Here is a man too who has been accused of running for the Presidency only for monetary gain, even if he did publicly acknowledge it.
Personal motivations aside, Ginola makes some valid points, and even if the cynical are convinced there is an ulterior motive, the sentiment remains – he’s serious about change. “A better gender balance will result in a more diverse, less corrupt FIFA,” Ginola say, matter-of-factly. “Of course FIFA’s governance structure will have to change too in order to become accountable and transparent, for the good of football.” Since Ginola’s comments, FIFA has committed to a change in its structure, but Ginola goes further.
“FIFA, the Confederation and Member Associations should be required to offer interviews to both male and female candidates for jobs of all types, including coaching and administrative positions.”
Ginola too has words of wisdom on the advantages of staging both the Men’s and Women’s World Cups together, one after the other. “Modeled on the proven and successful Olympic/Paralympic model,” he offers. “And using the same facilities instead of playing on inferior surfaces and in inferior playing conditions.”
“Giving women’s football the world stage it deserves can only be better for football, better for business.” The merits and drawbacks of dual tournaments are long and lengthy, but despite the business reference, his closing remark is earnest, “Just because there is more money in men’s football does not mean it is more valuable than women’s.”
The second edition of the FIFA Women’s Football and Leadership Conference is to take place next month, after the next President is elected. Tennis star Billie Jean-King is amongst a number of high-profile speakers confirmed to attend. FIFA has heralded it as ‘a signal of intent for a new era of development and engagement in women’s football.’ If that really is the case, then the next President must not just signal that intent, but act on it too. Perhaps one day soon we’ll also see a female candidate for President. Here’s hoping.