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FIFA needs more women at the top

The United States’ midfielder Megan Rapinoe #15 in action during a soccer friendly match against Mexico, on Sunday May 17, 2015, in Carson, Calif. The U.S. won 5-1. AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Last week, just days before the Women's World Cup kicked off in Canada, embattled FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter stepped down. Many saw his resignation, which capped a stunning string of news about indictments for corruption involving soccer's governing body, as an opportunity to reform how the organization is run.

The chairman of FIFA's audit and compliance committee said it would seek reforms such as term limits and public disclosure of compensation, and that when it comes to changes, "nothing will be off the table." Meanwhile, the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, said he hoped it would be the "first of many steps towards real and meaningful reform within FIFA."

One can only hope that among those steps forward is the election of more women to FIFA's leadership ranks.

The numbers, as they stand now, are disturbingly low. FIFA's 25-member executive committee, which serves as the organization's main decision-making body, includes only one elected female, Burundi's Lydia Nsekera. (Two other women on the executive committee are listed as "co-opted members for special tasks.") The emergency committee, which deals with matters of immediate concern, has no women. Both the ethics committee and the audit and compliance committee each have one.

Not only are the numbers paltry, but they appear purposefully so. FIFA's statutes actually stipulate that the main executive committee will be composed of the president, eight vice presidents, 15 other members and "one female member," noting that each of soccer's six regional confederations has the right "to propose one candidate for the office of the female member of the Executive Committee."

As others have noted, even if the intention was to ensure women were represented — Nsekera, elected in 2013, was the first — the statutes makes it sound as if everyone else elected should be a man.

What century is this again? FIFA has set up an "office of the female member"? This is progress?

The reasons FIFA needs more women among its leadership ranks are numerous and, in many ways, obvious. It could certainly help an organization whose leadership has been known to make sexist remarks (Blatter once said women should wear "tighter shorts" to increase the popularity of women's soccer). It could also help ensure that female players don't again have to play on hot and "inferior" artificial turf, as they are during their current World Cup — something they've said men haven't had to do.

Plenty of studies have shown, too, that there's a broader value gained by having greater diversity in the top ranks. A growing body of research has found it leads to better decision-making, stronger performance and less risk-taking.

Then there's also a 2013 study that found nearly three out of four cases of corporate fraud involved all-male networks, and other recent research showing that female CFOs were less likely to cheat on taxes than their male peers — as long as there are enough women on the board, too.

But perhaps the biggest reason FIFA needs more women among its top leaders is that women and girls constitute not only a sizable portion of the sport's players, but much of the game's future growth. As Kate Fagan wrote at, "the problem is that FIFA's leadership looks nothing like the future."

For the first time this year, there are 24 teams competing in the Women's World Cup, up from 16. And despite the sexist remarks, Blatter himself has recognized the potential of the women's game, and said (quite awkwardly) in his re-election speech just days before he resigned: "We need in this committee women. We need ladies."

Yes, FIFA, you do. Against this backdrop, it seems highly unlikely its next president will be a woman, but that doesn't mean it can't at least start making strides on its committees. Until women have more than token status in the governing body's most powerful roles, FIFA will miss out. They'll miss out not only on the many benefits a more diverse leadership slate can bring, but the power of having leaders in place who represent a huge swath of the people who play and care about their sport.

Read also:

More women at the top, higher returns

U.S. women eager to end their 16-year World Cup draught

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