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How do you improve gender balance in football leadership?

02 May 2018

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  • Sports Law
Integrity in sport

There is a significant under-representation of women in senior management and leadership roles in football. Catherine Ordway, Senior Consultant with Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers, has been advising a newly established group representing women’s football, Women Onside*. Their goal is to highlight the lack of gender balance in the governance of Australian football.  Here Catherine writes on the current impediments to gender equity in football in Australia.

In 2017, FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association) threatened to dismiss the current FFA (Football Federation Australia) Board and replace it with a so called “normalisation committee”. FIFA perceived a lack of democratic representation and asked FFA to find a solution.  FIFA’s Statutes require that national legislative bodies, at minimum: “be constituted in accordance with the principles of representative democracy and taking into account the importance of gender equality in football”.

In order to improve democratic representation, the FFA Constitution would need to be altered.  Under the FFA Constitution, the body known as “the Congress” would need to approve a proposal.

The Congress currently consists of ten men who represent: “nine State body members and one A league club member”.   For the FFA Constitution to be amended, 8 out of the 10 men currently on the Congress must vote for significant change to create gender equality and “representative democracy”.

In November 2017, after months of deliberation, the Congress failed to approve a proposal to increase the total Congress seats to fifteen. This would have seen an increase of the A-league club votes from 1 to 4, provide one vote to represent the player’s association (PFA) , and a combined vote for women’s football and local grass-roots football associations.

FIFA gave the FFA one last chance to comply with the FIFA Statutes and agreed to assist FFA to establish a Congress Working Group.

FIFA, AFC (Asian Football Confederation) & FFA representatives met with groups representing referees, coaches, players, supporters, semi-professional clubs and professional players. Catherine was one of the Women Onside representatives in a meeting on 20 Feb 2018. Her review of the meeting was reported to Dominic Bossi from The Sydney Morning Herald afterwards: “They [FIFA] seemed very open to hear what we had to say, they say ‘we’re here to listen’. Women Onside is not seeking a seat at the congress, we’re here to advocate for more women represented and the women’s game represented, neither of those are happening today”.

At this point, it is not expected that a resolution will be finalised before the World Cup in June. FIFA’s threat to dismiss the current FFA Board and replace it with a “normalisation committee” continues to be an option.

Are there mandatory requirements in other sports?

In 2013, the Australian Sports Commission’s Mandatory Governance Principles for National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) for the first time directly tied governance to funding for the top seven funded sports.  This was extended to the top 15 funded sports in 2015, and there is an expectation that all ASC recognised sports at State and national levels, should comply with this requirement.

Mandatory Principle 2.6 ‘Gender Balance on Boards’ acknowledges research showing that increased gender diversity on boards leads to better corporate performance.  The Principle sets out the requirement that all NSOs should seek to achieve a target of 40% representation of females on their boards, and report on the gender representation at executive management level:

Principle 2.6 – Gender balance on Boards

There is good evidence that diversity on Boards leads to better corporate performance.  The Commonwealth Government has set a target of a minimum of 40 per cent of Commonwealth Boards being female by 2015.

Similarly, the ASC’s position is that each NSO should seek to achieve a target of 40 per cent female representation over a similar timeframe, which the ASC will review pending progress and the overall skills mix of boards.

How can Snedden Hall & Gallop help you?

How can clubs and sports organisations comply with the 40% ASC requirement?  Catherine and the Sports Law team can provide practical advice on setting up structural amendments to suit your individual organisation. They understand the legal needs of athletes, sporting teams, clubs and other participants within the industry. They provide advice on legal, administration and governance issues which are unique to sports environment. If you are interested in improving gender balance in your leadership group, please contact us by email or by phone on (02) 6285 8000 to discuss. Please find out more about the sports law service.


*Women Onside is an Australia-wide advocacy network comprising current and past leaders of all facets of football.