Full disclosure: I am an academic and I’m a big fan of conferences. Some of the best/most important experiences I’ve had have been at conferences and the work done at them can be world-changing. But in this case, my gut says that FIFA is using this as a way to distract from their misogyny and blatant disregard for the women’s game. On International Women’s Day, the second FIFA Women’s Football and Leadership Conference will kick off at FIFA headquarters in Switzerland. They’ve got an impressive lineup of speakers, including America’s top scorer of all time, Abby Wambach, but I don’t know that talk about the issue, as things stand now, is really the best use of our time.
Fans of the global game, especially those who love their women’s national teams, know that we desperately need reform when it comes to gender parity issues in soccer, but more than that, we need new leadership within FIFA. We need leadership who don’t see the women’s game as something cute and/or a nice frill and/or secondary to the men’s game; rather, we need leadership who understand that it’s all the same game and, ultimately, the sex and/or gender of the player(s) matters not at all when it comes to how the game should be promoted, funded, regulated, and awarded.
Given the sheer number of professional football players around the world, it’s certain that there are players who are either trans* or identify as a non-binary gender; the more we treat the men’s game and the women’s game differently, the more we perpetuate the binary and the notion that soccer is a man’s world where females are merely tolerated. Soccer is the global game: it can be played anywhere with just about anything and is one of a very few sports that can be easily adapted to persons of a variety of skills and ability levels. The way we speak about the game, where we use “women” as a modifier rather than just talking about soccer. If you want to get information about the Women’s World Cup, you have to follow a separate Twitter account, as the main FIFA account has very little content about the women’s game, unless it’s to tweet out something that makes them look like they care.
This past summer’s World Cup, most of the FIFA officials were not in attendance. Yes, several of them were restricted from traveling because of pending criminal charges, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was very little authority willing to put their weight behind the event. Sepp Blatter, who is currently entrenched in his
fortress of solitude villain’s lair home in Switzerland had not planned on attending even the World Cup Final; he’s on the record talking about the attractiveness of players, suggesting shorter shorts would help gain the game momentum, etc.
You know what would actually help? Here are some concrete things that FIFA could do right now, without spending hours talking about it, to make concrete differences in the global game:
- Replace the current leadership within FIFA. Not just a few representative bad apples, but a complete overhauling of who makes decisions and how. The institutional culture needs to change and FIFA needs leadership who care about the game and all its players.
- Change the awarding process for World Cups to include a human rights component and a gender parity component. That is to say, when deciding which country will host a World Cup, the potential host countries and their record on human rights abuses should be examined and their support for female players and teams should be evaluated. On just this point alone, the 2022 World Cup would be stripped from Qatar and the 2018 from Russia (without even having to talk about the whole buying elections thing). If a country wants to host a World Cup, they should be required to meet some basic standards of human decency (if you don’t know what I’m talking about in regards to Qatar or Russia, click the links.).
- Pledge a fund of money to assist federations in the creating and running of women’s teams/leagues, especially in countries where women have limited access to opportunity in the sporting world.
- Require that all member countries allow female spectators in all stadiums. Disqualify countries from competition who refuse to allow women to watch matches. This does not mean just allowing women to watch other women play, but that women are allowed to attend any soccer match they so desire without their gender/sex being an issue.
- Ensure that laws governing appearance on the pitch do not unjustly put burdens on any players because of religious dress. While Muslim women are now allowed to play while wearing a hijab and Sikh men are allowed to wear turbans, players who choose to cover their hair or to wear base layers for modesty are still faced with suspicion and judgment. Laws regarding appearance during matches should be written to be gender neutral and uniform.
- Train all leadership at the federation, confederation, and FIFA levels on intersectionality and diversity, helping them to identify and then address the issues within their own federation/confederation/etc. (And FIFA, if you’re reading this, I know of a social ethicist who does this kind of work.)
- NEVER AGAIN MAKE THE WOMEN PLAY ON TURF.