By Brian Homewood
ZURICH, March 8 – Recently-elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino was told on Monday that “women are part of the solution” to the problems that have plagued soccer’s scandal-plagued world governing body.
FIFA executive committee member Moya Dodd also suggested to Infantino that women’s football was an untapped asset as the federation looks to boost its revenues.
Infantino, elected last month to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, has yet to appoint a secretary general and was told by tennis great Billie Jean King that the post should go to someone with a proven record of supporting gender equality.
Infantino, attending a women’s football and leadership conference held at FIFA headquarters, agreed that gender equality needed to be a priority for his administration.
The 45-year-old Swiss has inherited an organization in turmoil after several dozen football officials, including a number who held high-ranking FIFA positions at the time, were indicted in the United States.
Blatter himself has been banned for six years for ethics violations.
FIFA has passed a raft of reforms which include allocating at least six places on the new 36-member FIFA council, which will replace the executive committee, to women.
“I don’t like to impose diktats or obligations but sometimes we need to have targets, and we need to work on having more women on the FIFA Council. It is a minimum of six, it must be more and they must be all on other committees,” he said.
FIFA’s problems have made it tough to sign new sponsorship deals and it faces a $108 million deficit for 2015, according to Suketu Patel of the independent audit and compliance committee.
Infantino promised in his election campaign to increase revenue and Dodd said women’s football could help achieve that.
“FIFA has a brand problem and women are part of the solution,” Dodd told Infantino. “I’ve never heard a bad thing about the women’s World Cup, or about women’s football.”
“FIFA has one big asset, the (men’s) World Cup and we need more than one, and the women’s World Cup is part of the answer,” she told Infantino, who was sitting on the same panel.
Infantino added: “Women’s football doesn’t need charity, we have to focus on ensuring that the revenues grow to ensure it grows… and it can stand on its own.”
The conference began with an address by King who won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, including six at Wimbledon between 1966 and 1975.
She also became a feminist sports idol when her 1973 defeat of self-confessed “chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs set women’s rights and tennis on the road to a modern game.
King said one third of FIFA managers hired in the future should be women and FIFA needed to appoint staff to create a commercial strategy for women’s soccer.
“It’s not just about women having a seat at the table, and being grateful. They need to have a voice too,” she said.
Afterwards, King told reporters: “This is where you need bold leadership. The CEO has got to be somebody who has a track record in gender equality.”