Underlining or Undermining Women Leaders in Sport

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A progressive move from the World Game? FIFA Executive Committee member Moya Dodd. Photo: Marco Del Grande

It’s been a progressive week for women in sport, but we’re not about to break out pom poms. Two major football codes showcased opposing ways of addressing female leadership, yet both have left us disappointed.

Football’s world governing body, FIFA, voted the first woman onto its executive committee since it was formed 109 years ago. Burundi’s Lydia Nsekera became the 25th full time member of the executive on a four-year term, while two others were co-opted on the board on a one year basis, including former Australian international player and Asian Football Confederation Vice-President, Moya Dodd.

While this seems like a big step forward for women in sport, dig a little deeper and the appointments aren’t all they seem. Nsekera’s ‘female’ seat was specifically created last year and while it ensures there will always be at least one woman represented in the beautiful game’s governing body, it will also exist as an excuse to only ever have just one or a restricted number of females represented.

The two ‘co-opted’ one year positions were given to the two other candidates vying for the full time ‘womens seat’. Three out of 27 is hardly equal representation and reeks of the boys club trying to appear inclusive without being challenged for their positions.

Comments from FIFA President Sepp Blatter enraged many at the announcement at the Congress in Mauritius when he patronised the women in attendance saying, ‘Are there ladies in the room? Say something! You are always speaking at home, now you can speak here.’

This was on top of comments made days before the vote when he referred to Dodd as a “good candidate and a good-looking candidate”. Blatter was unable to look past the aesthetic to the impressive experience and attributes that Dodd could bring to the position, he could only find words relating to her looks. A quick glance at Dodd’s CV and you can see she’s more than just a former Matilda. Dodd is a partner for legal firm Gilbert + Tobin, she is the AFC Vice- President, a member of the FIFA legal committee, a director for Football Federation Australia among many other things. Yet Blatter’s comments didn’t fill many with confidence he had a similar look or interest in her extensive resume.

Criticisms over FIFA’s commitment to equality were further fuelled when Blatter said he would prefer we use the term ‘lady’ not ‘female’ when referring to the seat created. It’s almost as if women should look and sound lovely but not say or do anything that would challenge the institution. It’s no surprise then that this is coming from the man who suggested female football players should wear tighter shorts and more feminine clothing as a way of boosting the popularity of the sport.

These three women deserve a seat on the committee but have the credentials for any seat on the FIFA board, they shouldn’t need a ‘female’ …I mean…’lady’s only’ position to be created. It’s a token position that ensures the balance of power among the current 24 male seats is never challenged.

Raelene Castle CEO of Canterbury Bulldogs. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Raelene Castle CEO of Canterbury Bulldogs. Photo: Kate Geraghty

On the other end of the scale this past week we saw the appointment of Raelene Castle as the CEO of the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. It caused massive headlines, and, to be fair, any appointment of a CEO in the NRL does the same, but this time the central focus was on Castle’s gender.

It’s hard to ignore why it was the main angle for stories and reports throughout the media. This is a club with a shameful reputation for the treatment of women. The 2004 Coffs Harbour scandal and last year’s vile comments to a female journalist were two high profile cases which outraged many and damaged the club’s reputation. For the Bulldogs to appoint a female as its CEO, was seen as a massive turnaround and a positive step in both its and the NRL’s future.

Yet, Castle didn’t get the position because she was a woman and she wasn’t the first female to be appointed CEO of a Rugby League club with Liz Dawson (Adelaide Rams, 1997/1998) and Donna Burke (Cronulla Sharks 1988/1989) before her. This is a proven successful sports administrator with an impressive CV. Castle is considered one of the most influential people in New Zealand sport. People, not women. As CEO she led Netball to new heights with a multi-million dollar television deal and an increase in commercial revenue of 66%. Bulldogs Chairman, Ray Dib added “Raelene was the standout applicant from a list of high quality candidates made up of sporting and business leaders from around the world…Gender was never a discussion, it was the best person.”

For this reason, frustration started to grow at the continuing questions about her sex in her news conference and references to it in ensuing reports. It was of interest at first, but as the questions kept coming in many different ways, the attention turned away from what she will bring to the position as a proven business leader but on what she bring to the position as a ‘female’ and how it will be received from the opposing gender.

This is not a token position and this is no token female in it.

It’s a hard situation, we need to acknowledge the achievement of Castle and for the NRL club in a bid to celebrate women in leadership positions but over-playing the situation, harping on about Castle’s gender, only serves to trivialise her appointment.

I look forward to the day that the appointment of a woman leader is normal and not a novelty…and hopefully by then they’ll be referred to simply as ‘leaders’ not ‘lady leaders’.

First published on Daily Life June 3, 2013

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