FIFA Executive Committee's Moya Dodd champions reform from within
FIFA executive committee member Moya Dodd met with a group of media members who covered the 2016 NSCAA convention. The advance billing was for a formal press conference, but it ended up as a pleasantly informal conversation that lasted nearly an hour. Dodd willingly took questions on subjects ranging from her own playing career to her current mission of reforming FIFA from within.
When Moya Dodd walked on to the field at Vancouver's BC Place last July to be part of the Women's World Cup Final trophy presentation, she was met by a chorus of boos. That wasn't entirely intentional on the crowd's part.
The booing was intentional, to be sure, as the public took advantage of a rare chance to make itself heard to the powers that run global soccer's lavishly corrupt pig sty. It was loud, clear and all but unanimous.
Of course, much of that crowd hailed from the same country as the government which just a few weeks prior had made the ultimate declaration that what had long seemed to outsiders like a fraudulent global racket was in fact exactly so. It was still a better representation of "the public" than what you normally get at men's World Cup finals, where so many seats go to dignitaries and friends of FIFA sponsors.
But even the most cynical of the 53,341 fans in attendance likely didn't mean to make a statement about Dodd specifically.
Well before rising to great fame this year as one of the leading voices for reforming FIFA from within, the Australian had started to earn the spotlight as she called for greater inclusion of women in soccer across the globe.
She has been a vice president of the Asian Football Confederation since 2009, and a member of FIFA's Executive Committee since 2013. Though the ExCo does not grant her a formal vote, the overwhelmingly male body has not been able to keep her from making her voice heard.
This past October, Dodd earned her most prominent place yet on the global soccer stage. Her official proposal to FIFA's reform committee that the governing body enforce the inclusion of women at all levels of decision-making drew worldwide headlines, and won a cavalcade of praise.
I have been fortunate to cross paths with Dodd a few times. It first happened in Vancouver last July, when I covered the FIFA Women's Football Symposium on the eve of the World Cup final. Dodd met the press during the event, and unfortunately had a FIFA minder over her shoulder who made all too clear what subjects were off limits.
But I knew enough about her to have a sense of how she really felt, because her personality comes out in full on social media. She regularly engages with fans and media on Twitter, including a certain hack from an American city that the rest of the world might not know is a blossoming soccer hotbed:
Those retweets came during Dodd's visit to Baltimore last week for the NSCAA Convention. If you were there, you might have seen her. Or you might not, as she wasn't all that distinguishable herself from the thousands of other attendees.
She walked through the crowds dressed in the same business casual attire that anyone else around her could have worn. There were no FIFA minders or security agents clearing a path. When she got in line at the in-house Starbucks, no one demanded that she receive VIP treatment.
I can't quite imagine Sepp Blatter behaving the same way.
Dodd took in Friday's NWSL draft, attended a few seminars, and was the featured speaker at Saturday's Coaches of Women's Soccer Breakfast.
During an open hour in her busy Friday schedule, Dodd met with a group of media members who were covering the convention. The advance billing was for a formal press conference, but it ended up as a pleasantly informal conversation that lasted nearly an hour. Dodd willingly took questions on subjects ranging from her own playing career to her current mission of reforming FIFA from within.
Her remarks on FIFA will, I think, make some news - and not just because just about anything a FIFA Executive Committee member says is usually newsworthy. I think the best way to present Dodd's remarks is with a straight transcript, so that you can have the full context of what she said.
I haven't included every question and answer here, just the ones pertaining to FIFA matters. There's still plenty to take in, though, and I think you'll enjoy reading her views on the state of the world's game.
On U.S. national team star and Delran natiave Carli Lloyd winning this year's FIFA Women's Player of the Year award, and Jill Ellis winning FIFA's Women's Coach of the Year Award:
It was terrific to see. The FIFA Ballon D'Or [the proper name of the men's award, though not of the women's award yet] after a Women's World Cup is always great, because it's top of mind. There are so many performances that have been very public. It's one of the challenges [in voting for the award] - seeing these players in action enough, and in a World Cup year you've seen the big players in action.
And of course, to see Carli win, and to see Jill Ellis win, as a women's coach, I thought was great too. To see her recognized on the highest platform.
It's interesting that women coaches have won most of the world's major [women's] tournaments this century, and for those that kind of doubt the ability of women coaches - we're here at a coaching convention, so let's talk about women coaches. Anyone who doubts the ability of women coaches to perform on the big stage only needs to look at the results board for the last several World Cups and Olympic tournaments, and the women are dominating.
On the voting for FIFA awards in off years, when a lack of exposure for women's soccer often results in the awards being given based on name recognition alone and not performance:
I do think it's an issue, because the women's game is under-exposed throughout the world. We don't get the UEFA Women's Champions League in Australia. I don't think [German star midfielder] Nadine Kessler has ever been on television in Australia, and she was a winner [of the 2014 FIFA Player of the Year award]. So I acknowledge there's an issue.
FIFA is not a media company, so I think we need to look to partners in media all around the world to help create exposure opportunities for female footballers. This is one reason why I would love to see a club World Cup. You'd have an annual showcase of the best players at the top clubs in the world, which would be a regular reminder and a demonstration of the talents of these players.
There's not an easy solution. FIFA doesn't control the broadcast schedules of all the TV companies out there, but I think showing the success of the tournament and the success of the broadcast - particularly on Fox during the World Cup, it was phenomenal. I read a story that said they way overshot their original budget [projection] of advertising revenues for the broadcasts. This is good news. This shows that the opportunity is there. The eyeballs are there, and therefore the dollars should be there.
That's ultimately the solution - for companies to see that it's viable to broadcast those games and expose those women. Of course, we also have social media, and there are a lot of live streams. There's no editor who can put a red line through your story about a female athlete anymore if you're on social media. I think that is one thing that has changed from five or 10 years ago, even.
It's just an opportunity to bypass the traditional channels and go straight to that market, and develop that market. You see that happening, but it doesn't happen overnight.
On being cast as a champion of change and reform from within FIFA, and whether she has sought that label or had it placed upon her by the rest of the world:
I didn't set out to cast myself that way, but I do set out to make a difference. Zurich is a long way from Sydney, and it's 34 degrees [Celsius - 93 Fahrenheit] in summer right now. So if I'm going to not be there, I want to be doing something useful.
I really think that if you're in a position, then you carry with it the responsibility of that position. That responsibility is to make a contribution and leave the organization better than you found it, and do all you can to bring positive change.
I think the opportunity to contribute to that change, or to advocate for that change, arose in ways that none of us really imagined. But that opportunity having arrived, it was clear that this was a moment when big changes became not only possible, but necessary.
I felt strongly that gender equality should be part of that change, and it 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.
On whether women can lead the new era of FIFA, which for so long has been a quintessential old boys' network:
There's no doubt that FIFA needs to change, and I think it's widely acknowledged within FIFA that it needs to change. That's why it's now easier to re-state and to reinforce this message that women need to be part of that change.
Because in the meantime, the evidence in the corporate world that diversity does bring about better decision-making in corporations and governments. That's why governments all around the world are looking at 30 percent targets for boardrooms in corporations. The Germans have a quota around that; in Scandinavia, that's been present for many years. Because it's acknowledged that decisions are better when you have diversity.
I think better decision-making is something that FIFA needs, and in an environment that has been so overwhelmingly male for so long, it's clear that gender diversity is a big lever of positive change. It's not the only kind of diversity, but for FIFA, I would put it at the top of the list.
On the roles that U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati and Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani have played in helping Dodd's reform efforts within FIFA:
They've been great supporters. Obviously, Sunil is a colleague on the FIFA ExCo, and he's been hugely supportive of this effort. As you know, there have been some changes on the FIFA ExCo in the last little while [she said with a knowing smile], so the environment has changed. And no doubt it will change again as there's a new president coming into the chair on the 26th of February.
I don't have a crystal ball as to the future, but I can tell you that Sunil has been a huge supporter of this effort - and you know, of course, that many of the stakeholders in the U.S. were those who came forward first and loudest in support. Obviously, a lot of women's soccer players and ex-players were instrumental in supporting the proposals that we made: Julie Foudy, Mary Harvey, there's a long list of current and former U.S. women's national team players who were there.
And then it went beyond just women's soccer. [Los Angeles Galaxy and former U.S. national team player] Robbie Rogers got aboard, [former French national team player and one-time FIFA presidential candidate] David Ginola spoke up. Then it went beyond soccer. [Former Olympic swimmer] Donna de Verona came aboard. Billie Jean King.
It's gotten not just bigger than soccer, it's gotten bigger than sport. That was very encouraging, because at that point you know that the pressures for change just can't be ignored. When you have [such] women speaking up, they're going to be taken seriously by people who are way above my pay grade. So that, I think - the power of those voices was very tangible. And those voices were heard in Zurich [the Swiss city where FIFA is headquartered]. That made a difference.
On whether FIFA can improve global exposure to women's soccer by exerting influence on television rights-holders that don't broadcast women's tournaments to as great a degree as they do men's tournaments:
[I asked this question, basing it on FIFA's report on television broadcasts of last summer's World Cup. The report includes detailed statistics on how many hours of coverage the tournament got in countries across the globe. For example: Fox aired 512 hours of coverage in the United States, compared to beIN Sports' 87 hours of coverage in North Africa and the Middle East.]
There's a lot of different models as to how you ensure that the game is actually making it on to screens. In Sweden, when the women's league was in its early stages some years ago, I think they tied it to the broadcast rights of the men's league. It came with a must-carry obligation: so, if you want the men's league, guess what, you're taking the women's league, and you're going to broadcast it. And it worked in Sweden. It may not work everywhere.
I think one of the challenges at FIFA is that we have a whole lot of different cultures and broadcasters, and you're working with 209 countries. But I do think that the quality of what was done in 2015 - having extra cameras on the ground, having helicopter views, having a lot of stuff in the can [i.e. prepared features] that people could draw from - made a big difference.
For the first time, I found myself at games in Canada, and sometimes you'd look at the game and you'd think, "Well, it's really hot, it's kind of a bit slow, you can see the players are struggling to play at a high pace - I hope this looks good on TV." And at the same time, I'm getting texts from people saying, "This is a fantastic game. You're so lucky to be there." And I'm like, "Are we at the same game? I haven't gotten out of my chair too often yet."
But this is the difference that a good broadcast makes. If you invest in the quality of the production, it actually looks better on TV than when you're sitting in the stadium. And we've all sat at those games where there's 100 people, and you're thinking, "Oh, it's actually a really good game," but it doesn't come across because there's only three cameras or six cameras. When you have crowd shots interspersed, it actually lifts the broadcasts.
Well, guess what? Men's football has been benefiting from that for decades now. So when you look at the quality of the product, there's actually a big gain to be made - the players don't need to be fitter or better or anything, you just need to make a better broadcast package. When you do that, you see that it is entertaining, it's compelling, and people will watch it. I think investing in the quality is one thing that FIFA has done, and I hope will continue to do, to encourage that.
At the end of the day, I think also that leagues that are selling broadcast rights, and some of the national teams that are selling broadcast rights, those things are starting to set a market price. You do see them vary wildly around the world - sometimes I'm surprised that one game has got $300,000, for an international friendly, and then you kind of see a league where they're paying their broadcaster to put it on TV.
There still seems to be not a very settled market, if you like, for women's soccer broadcasts, but that will change and it will change through experience. So get down that path, get a few miles on the clock, and then that market will start to settle. It is very important that it does flourish, because that's what creates the revenues to create a professionalized game.
On whether FIFA can push its rights-holders to broadcast more of its women's tournaments specifically, perhaps by citing how this year's World Cup drew higher than expected audiences in some countries where women's soccer is still developing:
Well, they have it available to them. And yeah, there are those conversations going on all the time. You also have to remember that the rights are sold with the men's World Cup rights. It's fair to say they're not usually the focus of negotiations.
But that said, I think the big opportunity now - and indeed, one of the calls to action out of the symposium in Canada that FIFA held - was for there to be a big-time commercial strategy to make women's soccer the biggest women's sport on Earth, and the Women's World Cup the biggest women's sporting property on Earth.
It seems to me that's an entirely sensible ambition. It's the biggest game on Earth. It has both the benefit and the challenge that the men's version of the game is an enormous juggernaut that also generates a lot of money.
If we were talking about rowing, then you couldn't say, "Wow, men's rowing is such a great thing, surely women's rowing could be a great thing." Because there's nothing to cross-subsidize your entry, or to help you colonize that market, if you like.
When you're talking about football, you've got all that. You can cross-promote. You can leverage the game from the male professional game into the grassroots, into women, into youth, into every corner of the game and every corner of the Earth. That's a massive opportunity that I think - I hope - will be the focus for the women's game. Because the women's World Cup should be the next bread-winner aside from the men's World Cup.
If you look at the other properties - the under-20s, the futsal, etc. - to my mind, the women's World Cup is at the front of that queue to be the next big bread-winner for FIFA. I would urge us all to be part of making that happen. It should be entirely feasible to achieve that in the next decade.
On whether the dominance of western nations in international women's soccer will lead to a lack of representation in the sport from more geographically and racially diverse parts of the world:
I wouldn't set out to determine the priority of progress around the world. I think all progress is good progress. If you go to a FIFA gathering, you realize that the U.S. is one of 109 countries who are there. If you go to a symposium on women's football, as we have at each World Cup, there's obviously every nation on earth that is invited to that. I think 171 actually attended in Canada.
And I hear the same challenges in every country on Earth, from the biggest to the smallest, the same challenges - in getting a role in decision-making, and in getting resourcing of the women's game. They are two common challenges that you hear everywhere.
I do think that there is a role [for], and maybe a responsibility on, the more developed nations to lead the way, especially in showing that the game can be professionalized and can reach great heights to entertain and engage people, just as men's football does...
I mean, there are countries that don't have a professional league, that barely have any league at all. And even if you're from that country, you can still go play in the [German] Bundesliga or the EPL [English Premier League] if you're good enough, right? Well, it's good that there is a Bundesliga and an EPL for that player from East Timor to aspire to play in.
I think it's inevitable that some countries will be ahead of others. I'm a supporter of progress in the most advanced countries, not because I want to leave the others behind but because if you can demonstrate progress, then that progress can be shared. So to me, all progress is good progress.
If you're in a FIFA environment, you're very conscious that the world doesn't consist of just the western nations. I'm half-Chinese, second-generation Australian. My mother was Australian-born. I've got ancestors from various countries in Europe, I think - I'm not even sure where they all come from. Germany, Ireland, England, you know. And at every FIFA and confederation event, you're mixing with people from all over the Earth.
I meet some amazing women from places like Iran and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia who are absolute hands-down champions of the game. You'll never read about them or hear about them, but they are battling for the right to play - and watch, actually. In Iran, to enter stadiums and watch football is another big battle.
On the fact that the public perception of FIFA in many western nations, including the United States, is strongly negative:
Yeah, I do know that. I did get booed by 50,000 people at the World Cup final.
On the likelihood that the fans weren't booing her specifically:
I know. Anyone in a blue suit probably was ripe for it.
On what she'd say to the people who have lost faith in FIFA because they judge the whole of the organization by the big names on the executive committee who've committed corrupt activities; and on those western (especially British) voices who have called for FIFA to be dissolved entirely and replaced by a new global governing body:
That is an incredibly good question - and it goes to why the organization exists, and why I am in it, I think. I am in it because I believe that football needs a FIFA.
Football needs a strong world governing body, because that governing body every four years holds a thing called the men's World Cup which generates enough money to fund development to the tune of half a million dollars every day for the next four years.
In other words, one of its important functions is to redistribute wealth, to fund development, from the top of the male professional game to every corner of the Earth, to every corner of the game - be it youth, women's, futsal [indoor soccer], beach, disability. This is what becomes possible in a sport that is that big and that capable of generating revenues.
Like I said, if we were rowing, it would be different. And I think having a FIFA - in all of the controversies that we've seen, it's easy to forget that it is one of the most fundamental contributions that a world governing body can make.
Those who contemplate the demise of the world governing body, or express a wish for it, should be careful what they wish for. I don't think you could ever quite re-create something as capable as we have for doing good on a global scale, not only for the sport but for society. And that opportunity is worth fighting for.
- On the significance of FIFA taking this year's under-17 girls' World Cup to Jordan, and this year's under-20 women's World Cup to Papua New Guinea:
This is a really interesting part of the world, and I'm from Asia, so it's close to my heart to see a women's under-17 World Cup come to Asia [and] to go to the heart of the Middle East, or west Asia as we call it. This is a part of the world that has challenges politically, and there are a lot of challenges for women in that part of the world.
To showcase a tournament where young, healthy, active, strong, capable women come together and put on a show of football is just going to be a pleasure to see. I hope it makes a difference to mindsets in the region and around the world.
We've seen the under-17 World Cup go to some interesting places: Costa Rica, Azerbaijan and now Jordan. That's one of the great things about these junior tournaments with FIFA: it's a global tournament, but it can come to a place that probably isn't going to host, or hasn't hosted, the grown-up version - but it really is able to put on a show at junior level.
I was in Costa Rica for a part of the time for the last one [the 2014 under-17 girls' World Cup] and it was amazing. The whole country was stopped, almost, and it was the game in town. They packed out the stadium: 35,000 people came to watch the opening match, to watch 17-year-old girls play soccer. The nation pretty much stopped for that.
So it is a chance to leave a big legacy of gender inclusion in the country and in the region. I'm excited for that in both Jordan and New Guinea, where, again, there are big challenges faced by women in that country. There is a lot of gender-based violence, and again, I think one of the ways that can be challenged is to have women playing sport as strong, capable human beings - especially in a sport that's considered a male sport historically. That's something that demands equality.
And to see that, to have it visible, to have it showcased, to have a government behind it, is a big thing. I hope it leaves a really positive legacy for women and girls in New Guinea and in that region.
On what FIFA can do to increase understanding in global soccer about concussions, and why they should be treated seriously:
The three-minute rule was brought in a while back - the idea that you've got to stop the game for three minutes and clear the issue. So I think that raised a lot of awareness.
It's interesting, because I think awareness on concussion issues is very high in this country, and I'm not sure if that's because so much sport is played in colleges and high schools, where it's a supervised environment and there are legal liabilities and responsibilities. And you are kind of litigious in this country [she said with a laugh]. Maybe that has something to do with the higher levels of reported concussions.
I sense that it's not perceived as "as big" an issue in other parts of the world as it is in the U.S. I know U.S. Soccer has addressed heading with under-12s now [specifically: banning players 10 years old and under from heading the ball, and significantly reducing how much players between 11 and 13 years old do so]. And given the enormous issues with the NFL in this country, I think, probably, you're on the vanguard of considering these issues.
What can FIFA do? Well, I think through the medical committee and their input into IFAB [the International Football Association Board, which controls the rules that govern soccer worldwide], there's been a growing consciousness of these issues.
At the end of the day, you also want the game to go on, and people don't want to miss the game, so it's this balance between a coach and a player, maybe, wanting to go on, and medical people saying, "Well, maybe you shouldn't," and how you strike the right balance of protection as well as participation in that environment.
If you saw the men's World Cup final [in 2014, when Germany's Christoph Kramer sustained a concussion during the game but kept on playing], he wasn't going off. He wasn't going off.
It's more than meets the eye, I guess. There are many participants in that decision as to how a player participates. To draw a line, to draw a hard and fast rule and take the decision out of people's hands, is something you can't - well, I wouldn't dismiss it, but I think you have to take a lot of views into account before you do that.
Do you take it out of a player's hands, and say, "Well, sorry, you're off for a week or 10 days"? You could decide someone's season that way, you could decide their career that way.
So when you draw those lines, and you make mandatory rules, you need to be very careful that you've got that right. Or you leave discretion, and you enable people to make choices. I don't know that there's a right answer.
On whether, considering what happened to Christoph Kramer, it is important to ensure that the medical personnel who judge whether a player has sustained a concussion are employed by FIFA, and not the teams participating, so that their judgement can be completely independent of any competitive desires by the teams:
Well, doctors have their duties, and usually take the responsibility of providing independent advice. So I'm not sure that the national teams' management would want those decisions taken by doctors who are less familiar with the players. Like I said, it's a complex issue.