Early next week the Asian Football Confederation will vote to elect four of its seven representatives to the FIFA Council, the game’s central decision making body.
That vote has already been thrown into turmoil as one of the contenders, Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah, withdrew from the race following admissions made by former high-ranking AFC official Richard Lai of bribery and influence peddling in a United States court.
With only the South Korean Chung Mong-gyu, China’s Zhang Jian and the Philippines Mariano Araneta remaining for three of those spots they will automatically be elected with the only vote then taking place being one between four female candidates for the lone remaining slot.
That is widely considered to be a two-horse race between Bangladesh’s little-known candidate Mahfuza Akhter and the Australian Moya Dodd, a respected former international player and lawyer with vast experience at both AFC and FIFA level.
FOX Sports Asia (FSA) spoke with the highly regarded 52-year-old ahead of what looms as a pivotal election in a critical time for the game’s development in Asia.
FSA: How important are these upcoming elections in terms of shaping and charting a stronger future for football in Asia in light of its representation on the FIFA Council?
MD: Every election is important because it chooses those who will make decisions in the years ahead and there are a lot of big issues ahead. FIFA, and Asia, needs its best team on the park. I am urging our members to choose their representative according to the football values that we all learned on the field, where we are only judged on our performance. It’s in Asia’s interests to put its strongest team on the job.
FSA: What do you see as the greatest challenges/needs for helping to grow the game in Asia – and beyond – at all levels?
MD: First, we need to improve our governance by instilling a culture of integrity and compliance, and growing the understanding of what’s required. This is a work in progress, and more is needed.
Second, we need to promote inclusion and diversity in the game. There are many geographic and demographic corners of the football world where the game isn’t accessible and it’s the governing body’s role to make that happen.
Third, we must restore football’s reputation, build commercial confidence, and grow the game. I’d like to see sold-out World Cup rights and I’d like football to be the biggest participation sport in the world for women, just as it is for men.
Finally, there are some Asia-specific issues to be addressed.
The rankings system is one – our teams play for less points than a European team does – all other things are equal.
In club football, Asia provides a lot to the big leagues of the world e.g. investment capital, players, and large consumer markets. I’d like to see that recognised more tangibly than it is today.
Less than half of our members field senior women’s teams. We need to help build a strong grassroots base, then layer national leagues and teams on top of that.
Dodd worked on Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid.
FSA: Were you surprised by the admissions that came from Richard Lai about bribery and influence peddling and the fact that he seemed to implicate a wide range of figures in improper behaviour that stretches back many years? Equally so, did the sudden resignation of Sheikh Ahmad surprise you?
MD: It’s not my role to judge. There are others whose job it is to investigate and judge. For the rest of us, the task is to be tireless in doing the right thing, in the best interests of the game, guided by integrity and the football values we share and regardless of what goes on around me, that’s what I will do.
No-one takes any pleasure in seeing either individuals or the game suffer. The only response is to work harder to improve the game – to be better tomorrow than we are today and we can send a strong signal to the rest of the world by electing stewards to represent the AFC at FIFA who stand for integrity and football values.
FSA: You’re up against three other challengers to be one of just seven voices for Asia at the game’s biggest table. Why are you the right person for this post and what will you do to help Asia’s voice be heard and promote and develop global football?
MD: I’ve grown up in the game, as a player up to international level, and as an executive committee member at national, confederation and FIFA level. I have 30 years experience in law and business, working in telecommunications, media and economic consulting.
I’m also the most experienced woman on the AFC ExCo, especially regarding women’s football, and I want to bring those perspectives to the top table in FIFA.
I had three years on the old FIFA ExCo as a co-opted member (2013-16) and I learned to navigate that environment with integrity before, during and after the scandals that hit FIFA in 2015 and whilst there were some things I couldn’t do, there was a lot I could do.
I have a track record of action. I was able to drive progress in a critically overlooked area which holds enormous growth potential, and that’s women’s football – and women in football.
Dodd speaking at the 2014 FIFA Congress.
1) Convincing FIFA to establish the FIFA Women’s Football Task Force, and as its Chair, drafting the “10 Principles of Women’s Football Development” which were presented to and passed by the FIFA Congress in 2014 and initiating the establishment of FIFA’s Female Leadership and Development Program which has given dozens of women working in football around the world the opportunity to learn, network and advance in football.
2) During the crisis of 2015: writing and submitting a set of proposals to the FIFA Reform Committee calling for increased gender representation and equality as a core tenet of reforms and publicly advocating for passage of the reforms, including appearing at FIFA’s own press briefings, and writing an opinion column for the New York Times.
But much remains to be done, and I’d like to be part of the next phase of making FIFA a better, more accountable organisation.
Football is very culturally diverse yet we share basic values learned in the game: to be fair, to be open to all, to work as a team, and to let merit and hard work shine.
They are the values that I hope all our members bring to the ballot box on Monday, and make their choice accordingly.
FSA: To say that people are losing patience with FIFA is an understatement. After we were promised a cleaner future we have senior figures being dragged into investigations and now Asia directly involved in that mess. Why should the average football fan still have belief that FIFA has their – and the game’s – best interests at heart?
MD: I understand the frustration. We have such a great game and we want FIFA to be famous for the right reasons. That’s why this election sends a critical message to fans, sponsors and stakeholders – what we want and value going forward.
Football needs a strong, resolute governing body. FIFA is the key mechanism by which the wealth generated at the top end of the male professional game is distributed across the whole pyramid and we can’t give up on that.
We have to work to make the system stronger and fairer and the only way to do that is to elect people into the system who will work to that end.