The Importance of Girl's Sports and Women’s Parity in FIFA
Previously published in the Huffington Post.
According to the Guardian, FIFA (the global governing body for men’s and women’s soccer) practices “gender discrimination extreme enough to violate the law in almost every country where FIFA tournaments are played.” We need a path to parity for women within FIFA, and hoping FIFA will do the right thing is not a strategy. Hope is only a solid strategy if you need the world’s best goal keeper (USA’s Hope Solo). We as consumers can and should play a significant role in this important global change for women’s sports. Lend your support for women’s parity in FIFA by joining Millions of Consumers for Women’s Parity in FIFA on Facebook and spreading the word.
FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has been in the news a lot of late, and not in a good way. Currently FIFA is under investigation for wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. FIFA’s long time president Sepp Blatter just stepped down and lawyered up. FIFA is being redefined as you read this article, and women’s parity is not on the table (yet). This is a critical juncture and the right time to start a serious path to parity in FIFA for the women’s game. FIFA needs the equivalent of a global Title IX now.
Today 30 million girls play organized soccer around the world. An estimated 48 percent of all soccer players in the U.S. are girls. FIFA was founded in 1904 (111 years ago); there have been 20 men’s world cup tournaments. The first Women’s World Cup was played in 1991 (just 24 years ago); this month Canada is hosting the 7th Women’s World Cup tournament. In the entire history of FIFA, there has been exactly one woman elected to a full term on the executive committee. Lydia Nsekera of Burundi was elected in 2013 (two years ago), with her initial role stated as “representative of women’s football” that was then literally crossed out and replaced by “female member of the executive committee.”
Why Girls Should Be Encouraged to Play Sports
When girls play sports, they are provided a safe laboratory in which to learn critical life skills and a chance to be ‘embodied’ without being sexualized. Sports activities create space at a very young age to learn how to perform under pressure, understand your role on a team, react to shifting conditions, participate in a coaching relationship, and learn the importance of practice and preparation. Widespread participation in sports delivers competent women leaders and contributors to our countries, companies, and communities. Making sports available to all girls is one of the best investments we can make to prepare for an uncertain future that absolutely will require competent and diverse leadership.
At last week’s FIFA Women’s World Cup USA vs. Nigeria game in Vancouver, Canada, I was ecstatic to be in the stands with 53,000 other women’s soccer fans (which matched the average attendance for the men’s World Cup games in Brazil last year), with another 5 million watching on TV. When I played high school soccer in Omaha NE (1982-1986), women’s soccer was not yet an officially sanctioned state sport. The largest crowd I ever played in front of was probably about 27 — all of whom were related to the girls on the field. We have come so far, and have the potential to go so much further!
Participating in sports gave me skills that I use every day to successfully compete as an entrepreneur in the global economy. Elite athletes (the top 1 percent) get the most attention, but all participants in sports have the opportunity to learn relevant life skills in a safe environment. I learned the importance of fundamentals from my grade school basketball coach; make most of your layups and free throws, and you’ll win almost every grade school basketball game. Today, I translate these into the fundamentals for business (be on time, call people back, meet your commitments, keep your word) and they guide my daily decisions in running my business. I learned strategy from my high school basketball coach, how to scope out the competition, expose their weaknesses, and leverage your strengths. When I competed for my first large government contract, it was me against a Fortune 500 company with dozens of seasoned professionals working on the bid. I understood how to scope out their weaknesses and leverage my strengths, and I won the contract.
Join Us to Drive Change at FIFA
Are you familiar with crowdsourcing? It is the process of reaching your objectives by soliciting contributions from a large group of people. I’m suggesting a slightly different variation which I call ‘consumer sourcing’ of power. Follow the money to the source, and you will find that each and every one of you reading this article has the ability to impact the entire FIFA ecosystem when we act together as millions of consumers (men and women). When we stand alone, we are weak. When we stand together we are unstoppable. The organizational chart looks something like this:
Yes, we are two levels above Sepp Blatter in the hierarchy, and we should start acting like it. This means we can stop all the silliness of “I hope FIFA is listening” and “we are at FIFA’s mercy.” This is simply not true, and we owe it to every girl on the planet to show them how to exercise their power via a united front.
We have the ability to bring parity for women in FIFA to the table as FIFA is being redefined. As Sheryl Sandberg so elegantly communicated in her book Lean In, it’s time for us to take our rightful seat at the table — stop waiting for an invitation, it will never come. The professional women players, coaches and leaders need our help; consumers have to make their demands clearly known for a real path to parity for women in FIFA. Women make more than 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions. If you watch TV, use a Visa credit card, drink Coke, or wear Nike gear (among many other corporate sponsors), you qualify as a member of the group at the top of the hierarchy that makes this whole system work. We have to act together, and social media gives us the platform to stop talking about the problem and start creating the solution. That’s what people in charge do, they solve problems.
When organizations are diverse, they are less corrupt. Organizations that include women perform better under difficult situations. Germany now has a law on the books that requires 30 percent of supervisory seats on corporate boards to be women. We need to create a path to parity that gets us to at least 30 percent representation for women throughout all levels of FIFA. When there is parity in the leadership, we can be part of managing a more just global sport, which will be good for girls playing soccer, good for corporate sponsors and TV networks who count on us as consumers, and good for FIFA. As the women’s game continues to grow in popularity, it only means more positive results for FIFA.