How women can help make sport better

30 March 2014 Comments 2

In my last blog I wrote about the optimism that is spreading through world cycling following the appointment of Brian Cookson as its new President. That ‘new broom sweeps clean’ message got me thinking; what about other sports?

The winter Olympics in Sochi was a political hot potato that another new President, Thomas Bach of the IOC will need to ensure doesn’t re-occur and this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil is drawing ever nearer amidst serious social unrest, poor safety records (yet another worker death yesterday on a Brazilian world cup stadium construction site) and news that FIFA President, Sepp Blatter is preparing to seek re-election next year – at the ripe old age of 78.

It’s an amazing and scary prospect because, in the not too distant past, Herr Blatter has been roundly (and correctly) criticised for his comments about racism, women’s football and particularly for the way in which the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments were handled. The selection of Qatar in 2022 is particularly questionable because it seems no-one at FIFA had considered that it might be a little hot in Qatar in June… WTF?

So if cycling and the Olympic Movement can promise a new era, isn’t it time football did the same?

In October last year, I met Bonita Mersiades at conference in Denmark. Bonita is the lady who began Australia’s bid to stage the 2022 finals as the Federation’s Head of Corporate and Public Affairs. She didn’t last the course because she was controversially hounded out of office by Australia’s male-dominated bidding steamroller for daring to question why Australia was paying $150,000 a MONTH to two questionable ‘consultants’. Bugger it, let’s call it for what it was – an failed attempt to purchase votes. I say failed because Australia only secured one vote.

Speaking at the Play The Game Conference in Aarhus, Bonita posed a question:
“What will it take for a woman to be President of FIFA?”

It was a provocative question that was no doubt intended to get people thinking – and it did. The point of Bonita’s presentation was to highlight the opportunity sport may be missing – and I think she’s right.

So, here’s the thought from a red-blooded, raucous Aussie male. Why doesn’t sport start putting a few more women in charge? Now, before the chauvinists among you wipe spluttered coffee/beer/wine from your screen, let me explain. As I see it, the most negative response you should have is that in many cases they can’t do any worse, so what is there to lose?

Bonita made a strong and impassioned (and obvious) case for simply picking the best person for the job. She illustrated the point by saying that it was; “more or less conventional wisdom in modern economies today, to tap a more diverse talent pool by having women on Boards and in senior management positions in business.” Generally speaking, it doesn’t happen in sport because there are; “out-of-touch men leading a bunch of other out-of-touch men”.

So how about a change in tack? Sports Federations should always be looking for new ideas, fresh impetus and a ‘vision to take us forward’. Most of the time though, it ends up with another bloke from the inner circle taking over and doing nothing but keeping the seat warm and his own position safe. Remember Ian Botham’s famous quote about the England cricket Test selectors? In 1986, he called them “gin swilling old dodderers” and now, almost 30 years later, we’re still having the same sort of debate. Likewise, in 1995 England rugby captain Will Carling referred to those in charge of English rugby as ’57 old farts’.

At SKINS, we recently completed a campaign around Sochi that focused on the inequality of the Russian regime and the need for the IOC to ensure sport for ALL and freedom of expression at future Olympic venues corresponds with the notion of inclusion as outlined in the IOC’s charter. The promotion of women into prominence is merely an extension of that principle. We’ve seen women national leaders across the world, so why not in seats of power in world sport?

Surely it’s time to start appointing the best person to do a particular job, irrespective of gender? If it happens to be a bloke, then that’s fine but if there is a credible and better female alternative, what the hell is the problem?

To make it happen on a sustainable basis there needs to be deeper efforts at all levels and in all places. If you look hard enough, there is plenty of evidence around the world that shows women DO want to be involved. In Australia for example, the Australian Football League (Aussie rules) targeted women for their support base and were extremely successful. Women are now huge supporters of the AFL and they have a round every year where pink is prevalent at all games and mums everywhere are celebrated. Of course, celebrating mums doesn’t simply turn them into sports administrators but the idea of pushing International Federations to incentivise member federations is very a strong argument for recognition and fresh impetus at ALL levels.

I’m not arguing for women instead of men, I’m arguing for women AS WELL AS men. It’s a thought that has far more potential for sustainability than same old same old.
At least, it should have.

To read Bonita Mersiades’ full presentation, click here
The link is included in the word ‘here’, but the full link is below if required
http://www.playthegame.org/fileadmin/image/PtG2013/Presentations/31_October_Thursday/Managing_in_the_Main_Game_-_Bonita_mersiades_31_Oct_13.pdf

2 comments on "How women can help make sport better"

  1. Bastien Wallace on 3 April 2014

    Nice one Jamie Fuller. In the sport governing bodies and leisure management leadership teams I’ve worked in over the years in the UK and Australia it’s not only women that are missing. People from diverse backgrounds, sports scientists and other learned University trained minds are also scarce or absent. Let’s have transparent, impartial recruitment processes and really get the best person for the job.

  2. Johna418 on 13 July 2014

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