No one said reforming FIFA was going to be easy. But Moya Dodd still believes that soccer's global governing body can right its own ship.
Since May of last year, 34 current and former FIFA officials—along with officials of many soccer federations and confederations across the world—have been indicted on various corruption charges. Investigations have been opened about the integrity of the votes to award hosting rights for the 2006, 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. President Sepp Blatter and general secretary Jérome Vâlcke have both been banned by FIFA for their alleged involvement in the taking of bribes. In the Western world, confidence in the organization is at an all-time low.
Enter Dodd, a nonvoting member of FIFA's much-maligned Executive Committee (ExCo) who has become one of the most credible and outspoken voices for change within the organization. In the last few months, Dodd has spearheaded the FIFA reform movement to not only overhaul the corrupt structure that has given rise to men like Blatter and Vâlcke, but also to advance the cause of female participation in all levels of global soccer.
Last December, Fifa's ExCo approved a series of reforms proposed by Dodd, including an initiative to increase female representation within the committee to at least 30 percent. These proposals will be voted on when the entire FIFA congress convenes in late February.
Is FIFA's Dodd era upon us? It's too early to say, but she won't be slowing down any time soon.
Dodd's rise to prominence in the global soccer community began when she was growing up in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s. Half-Chinese by heritage, Dodd possessed an outsider's perspective, shaped during a time when immigration from the Chinese mainland had not yet exploded. She found her way to soccer, playing for amateur sides until she was called up to the Australian national team in 1985. Dodd retired from the sport a decade later; she couldn't hold off pursuing her law career any longer.
Now a partner at Sydney-based white shoe law firm Gilbert + Tobin, Dodd has slowly expanded her ambitions within soccer. She was nominated to a Football Federation Australia board seat in 2007. Two years later, she became a vice president for the Asian Football Confederation.
In 2013, FIFA decided to make a show of diversity by creating a new position on the ExCo, to be occupied by a woman. Dodd finished second in a voting that was rumored be ethically dubious; in other words, a typical FIFA vote. In order to appease her predominantly Asian and Western European constituency, she was appointed to be a non-voting member of the ExCo, one of only three women serving in the 25-member body. She holds the title of "Co-Opted Member for Special Tasks."
Since that appointment, she has found herself in the most inner—and now, most controversial—of soccer's inner circles.
Thanks to the power it wields over international soccer, the ExCo has been in the crosshairs of the Western European media for decades. The committee makes crucial decisions within FIFA, none more visible than voting on host nation honors for each World Cup. Those votes are now being intensely scrutinized, thanks to the ongoing 2010 bribery scandal that saw Russia and Qatar awarded hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. Five current and former ExCo members were indicted last year, accompanying Blatter and Vâlcke's ousters.
All of this puts Dodd in an unusual, perhaps advantageous position: She may not hold a vote on the committee, but that doesn't mean she lacks an opportunity to wield power.
"The opportunity to advocate for change arose [last year] in ways that none of us could have imagined," she said in a recent interview. "It was clear that this was a moment that big changes became not only possible, but necessary. I felt strongly that gender equality should be part of that change, and would alter the landscape on many fronts. It wouldn't just be fair and overdue, but it would also be part of a better governed FIFA."
This is where Dodd offers a different approach to FIFA reform—and perhaps, something wonderfully radical. Rather than separate the issues of institutional ethics and gender disparity, Dodd has fused them. Last August, she submitted a proposal to FIFA's reform committee, advocating fundamental changes to the way FIFA is run. The first few points were pretty much as expected: term limits for presidents and high-ranking officials, so that we never see the likes of João Havelange and Sepp Blatter again; and a division of the Executive Committee's political and managerial responsibilities, so that one palm can't so easily grease the other.
But Dodd went even further, including the proposal to make the ExCo at least 30 percent female. This is not an arbitrary number—as Dodd states in the proposal, 30 percent inclusion in a group represents a "tipping point," where women are no longer considered a special interest, but rather just another voice in the broader decision-making process.
To the shock of absolutely no one, FIFA has not been a standard-bearer of gender inclusion. Of the 209 member nations, only two federations have female presidents. Less than one percent of all the voting members of FIFA are women. Three women serve on the ExCo, and they've only done so since 2013. Dodd claims that this not only constitutes discrimination, but also limits FIFA's ability to think outside the box.
"The evidence is piling up in the corporate world that diversity brings about better decision making—in corporations, in governance," she says. "That's why governments are looking at 30 percent quota targets for corporations and boardrooms."
While some may bristle at the word "quota," Dodd maintains that increased diversity among FIFA decision-makers will make corruption less viable, since a richer collection of ideas and innovations will be offered by ExCo members. And Dodd's agenda doesn't stop with ethics. Her proposals tuck radical gender reforms neatly inside general ethical reforms—gender reforms that arguably are overdue.
Dodd cites a FIFA survey where 82 percent of respondents claimed that gender discrimination was stymying the development of women's soccer in large parts of the world. Only $156 million is spent worldwide on women's soccer, the vast majority of it concentrated in the United States, Canada, Australia, east Asia, and western Europe. Less than 40 percent of FIFA's member associations offer under-12 girls development programs.
The upshot? If you're a young girl living in Central America, South America, Africa, or the Middle East, chances are that soccer is still a boy's game, something Dodd is keen to transform.
If more women are in power, the theory goes, then more development resources can potentially be allocated to growing the women's game globally, which in turn will normalize the idea that men and women have equal status within soccer from a very early age. Soccer can then be the tipping point for broader social evolution with regard to gender.
"If you talk to any of these global organizations—the World Bank, the UN—and ask them what the big levers of change are for society's well being, they will say that if you want to improve society, improve the lot of the women," Dodd said. "Giving women the opportunity for participation in wealth generation and economic productivity is incredibly good for a country."
This may perhaps surprise many in the Western world to hear someone actually push so hard for FIFA to fix itself, rather than just tear the whole thing down, as some have advocated. But Dodd is a from-within revolutionary. "Football needs a strong global governing body," she says, "because every four years, that body puts on a tournament called the Men's World Cup. That tournament generates enough money to fund development to the tune of half a million dollars, every day, for the next four years. One of FIFA's most important functions is to fund development from the top of the men's game to every corner of the game across the world. This is what becomes possible in a sport that is that big and that capable of generating revenues.
"If we were rowing, things would be different. Amid all the controversies [within FIFA] that we've seen, it's easy to forget that that is one of the most fundamental contributions a world governing body can make. I don't think you could ever recreate something as capable as we have for doing good on a global scale, not only for the sport, but for society. That opportunity is worth fighting for."
If Dodd has her way, that fight is only beginning.