By Andrew Warshaw in Athens
September 13 – It may have gone unnoticed as something of a sideshow but there is a second vote taking place here Wednesday alongside the UEFA presidential election, one that involves a single candidate but also a healthy dose of controversy and questionable tactics on the part of UEFA.
As most readers will know, FIFA have decided to bring more women on to their new-look 36-member ruling Council as part of the ongoing reform process following criticism of the antiquated way in which the organisation has operated in the past.
Yet it is UEFA which now stands accused of being antiquated after refusing a Welsh candidate, the eminently qualified Laura McAllister, to stand for its prestigious female position on the FIFA Council, leaving the way clear for Italy’s Evelina Christillin to be elected as the only other contender for the post.
The four British associations have long had an automatic vice-presidency at FIFA’s top table but UEFA rules state that because of this privileged position, which dates back to 1946, they are not permitted to have any other candidate on the FIFA Council which is designed to be more modern and accountable than the old executive committee.
The knock-on effect is that since England’s David Gill already occupies the guaranteed British seat in FIFA’s inner sanctum, the highly regarded McAllister, a former captain of the Welsh women’s national team whose name was originally submitted, has been rendered ineligible. All because of a regulation dating back 80 years and one which UEFA steadfastly refuses to change when other countries are permitted to nominate a female member even if they already have a male on the Council as well.
FA of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford, whose association nominated McAllister, was quoted as saying: “We are disappointed that Laura’s candidacy cannot go forward. She would like to make a contribution to FIFA and UEFA and we hope we can put her forward in the future. Can you say we should have been aware of it before putting Laura’s candidacy forward? Yes, is probably the answer to that. But we would hope at some point to find a way to change the regulations in the future and support Laura in another role.”
Ford may not be prepared to admit it for diplomatic reasons but there is little doubt UEFA are hiding behind red tape. Indeed, McAllister herself commented: “We were optimistic, so it is a disappointment. But I do hope I can bring my sports and governance background to the table in the future.”
The British nations have held their unique vice-presidency position on FIFA since 1946 when it was introduced as payback after a British XI played a Rest of the World side at Hampden Park to raise proceeds for FIFA after the war.
But McAllister’s loss is also UEFA’s having established herself as one of Europe’s most respected professors of governance at the University of Liverpool. She is also chair of Sport Wales. While Christillin helped organise the Winter Olympics in Turin in 2006, she has little or no football background as such.
“I’d be optimistic that I could get my voice heard, and I’d be going on to the council with a very clear agenda for modernisation, good governance and change,” McAllister was earlier quoted as saying.
UEFA’s executive committee had the chance to amend the relevant statute at its most recent session but decided against doing so, using the argument that the election process had already started.
That may have been understandable in the old days but with FIFA’s new strategy-making Council comprising 36 places, it seems very much a lost opportunity and a backward step that goes against the spirit of the rule that says you can have a woman in addition to a man from the same country on the new body.
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