US striker Megan Rapinoe’s claim that FIFA is “old, male and stale” may have been a comment triggered by disbelief over FIFA’s final nominations for its top female player award, but the wider context does bear closer examination. A look at the top of the FIFA hierarchy shows that half its confederation presidents do not have competing national women’s senior teams.
So is FIFA really just paying lipservice to the women’s game and its development?
FIFA’s magazine 1904 this quarter ran a number of stories championing the women’s game and its development – Carli Lloyd, Mia Hamm (a firm FIFA favourite) and Celia Sasic all have prominence.
Everything was going so well until it comes to the women’s rankings. Cross-reference the rankings to the presidencies of FIFA’s confederations raises the question of whether the message of gender equality and opportunity is really getting through to those elected to run the game.
Incredibly, considering the reform process PR spin FIFA and its presidents are pushing globally, three out of six confederation leaders – Ahmad Ahmad (CAF president), Alejandro Dominguez (Conmebol president) and David Chung (OFC president) – have no meaningful international women’s teams in their own countries.
It is not a case of just not being very good, it is a case if actually just not having a team of any sort playing regularly on the international stage.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the OFC’s Chung, the second most important person in FIFA as first senior vice president, tops the list with his home country (though he doesn’t live there) Papua New Guinea described as being inactive for more than 18 months and therefore not ranked.
PNG even hosted the 2016 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup (in which it did have a team) but that seems to have left no senior women’s football legacy in the country.
Chung is under fire in PNG from the men’s game which has set up a rival league that is dwarfing the federation organised league and is even establishing its own federation. Chung was accused of fixing his re-election to the PNG FA presidency by banning stakeholders who would have voted against him but maintaining a quorum large enough to get him re-elected.
In terms of football history it is Paraguay – like PNG listed as being inactive for more than 18 months – is the most surprising of the three confederation president’s countries not to have a senior women’s team.
Paraguay has a long history of men’s international football having qualified for eight World Cups though not making it to Brazil in 2014 and just missing out in qualification for 2017. Dominguez took over from fellow Paraguyan and close friend Juan Angel Napout at Conmebol when he was arrested by US justice authorities in corruption charges.
Ahmad, Africa’s new leader, is perhaps the least surprising of the three not to have a women’s national team in competition. Parachuted in to replace Issa Hayatou and powerfully backed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his executive in Zurich, Ahmad comes from Madagascar and is president of a national football federation with very little footballing pedigree and in a country where football is not regarded as the national sport.
Rapinoe’s “old, male and stale” comment was vigorously challenged by FIFA over their selection of female nominees for the Best awards. Her complaint was that picking an unknown player for the final three nominations made a joke of the awards and devalued the womens game and women players. FIFA defended the selection saying that it was made by a panel comprised of four groups – which, frankly, makes the selection of an unknown US college player harder to believe.
However, that is the FIFA explanation and it ultimately this time round it needs to be taken at face value. What is more concerning for the development of the women’s game globally is that in some of the countries where FIFA is recruiting its leaders it is not women players that are unknown but the women’s game itself. Rapinoe may have a point after all.
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