FIFA: Cracking football's 'grass ceiling'

Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT) February 29, 2016
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The election for FIFA's new president takes place at the organization's headquarters in Zurich on Friday. While the battle to replace Sepp Blatter tops the bill, reforms set to boost women's participation in football, particularly representation on the new FIFA Council (replacing the Executive Committee), are expected to be ratified. Martin Rose/Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images
In the run-up to the election, CNN contacted the five presidential candidates to seek their views on the involvement of women in the game. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The Bahraini royal, who also heads the Asian Football Confederation, is the favorite to replace Blatter. Does he think a woman will ever be FIFA president? "The truth is that it is not a question of gender but rather a question of qualifications," he says. "The best woman or the best man should run FIFA. If one had a choice between surgeons of different backgrounds or sexes to operate on a loved one, one's decision would be based on their qualifications and experience and nothing else. FIFA, as many other professional organizations in the west, shares the same challenges when it comes to gender issues." PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The one-time diplomat and former adviser to Sepp Blatter fervently believes in the need to reduce inequality across global football, and is in doubt about the potential for a female FIFA leader. "The biggest problem of our world is about placing individuals in boxes according to generalizations and/or prejudice according to their gender, passport, ethnic origin, religious creed or the absence of any, social background, sexual orientation, etc. So it is not about gender but about vision. History has shown a lot of cases where a cause was better defended by persons considered to be remote from that particular cause. History shows as well a lot of female leaders who were not very feminist in their deeds. One day, for sure, a woman will be the president of FIFA -- along the line of the same trends which took women to the highest positions in countries from India to Germany, from Brazil to Liberia, and maybe soon in the US." EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The Jordanian prince is battling to become FIFA president for the second time, after losing the 2015 elections to Blatter. Women in football is a "subject close to my heart," he tells CNN. "As president of the Jordan Football Association I started a women's league in 2006 and I was instrumental in overturning the ban on female players wearing the headscarf. Later this year my country will host the Under-17 Women's World Cup, a first for our country and the Middle East. If elected FIFA president I would assess investment levels and structure of assistance for the women's game. I would create a separate development budget for women's football, derived from new revenues, as well as reducing the financial burden for hosts of Women's World Cups of every age group. From players to coaches, officials and administrators, it is vital women are represented at all levels. As a member of the Executive Committee, I was supportive of a greater representation for women at all levels of the organization, and if elected president this will not change." FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
CNN contacted Sexwale's camp, but received no response. Gallo Images/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
The candidates are only dreaming of becoming president after a US Department of Justice inquiry last May threw FIFA into chaos. Despite winning the elections that month, long-standing president Sepp Blatter announced his intention to step down shortly after. In December, Blatter was banned for eight years by FIFA for breaching its code of ethics. "I don't know if he doesn't know right from wrong," said an expert on gender in business Professor Michael Haselhuhn. "It's more that he perceives what he's doing as right."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel would make a fine leader of FIFA, claims political journalist Karsten Kammholz of German newspaper Die Welt. He believes Mrs Merkel, who took charge of her country in 2005, would wipe away corruption and perhaps ensure the World Cup went to traditional football powerhouses -- as opposed to 2022 hosts Qatar, where the intense heat is forcing the tournament to be rescheduled from June-July to December. "With her in charge, FIFA could become a well-esteemed sports organization where people discuss and argue under democratic standards," Kammholz told CNN. "Probably, FIFA wouldn't make that much money under Merkel, but still enough to keep it as one of the most powerful sports organizations in the world. And World Cups would only take place in summer and only in countries that clearly have a football-loving audience." AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
This time four years ago, FIFA -- founded in 1904 -- had never had a woman on its all-powerful Executive Committee. But in 2012, Lydia Nsekera of Burundi became the first. Advised that it would be a way to rebuild trust after the corruption storm that followed the 2022 World Cup award to Qatar, she was co-opted (ie invited) to take a place. ESDRAS NDIKUMANA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A year after Nsekera was co-opted, she won a women-only election to have a more formal -- elected -- place on the ExCo. The two women she beat were both then co-opted: Moya Dodd, of Australia, and Sonia Bien-Aime of Turks and Caicos. Dodd is unequivocal in her belief that we are living through a period of real change for women in power. "We do the game a disservice if we don't embrace and enable the whole population of the planet," Dodd told CNN. "My generation is now doing things that my mother could never have dreamed of doing. And I'm sure that what you are seeing globally over history, over the last 100 years, is the feminization of decision-making in the world. I think that's going to be a really positive thing for football. I think we're going to have a better game, a better run game, a better sport, and we'll be able to make a contribution towards a more equitable and more productive society." Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Sierra Leonean FA chief Isha Johansen is the other female football president. She is considering a bid in future and tells CNN: "I absolutely know -- for sure -- that there will be a female FIFA leader. These are ever-changing times and it will happen. When? I don't know. When it does, it will be the dawn of a new era and like, I guess, when Obama was elected president of the United States. It will be that same euphoric feeling -- history in the making." Courtesy Isha Johansen
The Australian is a co-founder of New FIFA Now, a campaign group that wants independent and external reform of the organization. In November 2014, FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert published his summary of the report into possible corruption surrounding 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding by former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia. Mersiades had helped the latter's investigation -- under condition of anonymity -- but says she was betrayed because of her gender. "Garcia allegedly spoke with 75 people but in the summary by Eckert, he singled out two whistle-blowers (Arab-American Phaedra Almajid, who worked on the Qatar 2002 campaign, was the other)," the Australian tells CNN. "It was absolutely clear to everyone in the world who those two people were -- and they were women. Knowing FIFA and the way it operates, what they expected was that we would run away, curl up in the corner and die and never say anything." Bonita Mersiades