AMMAN, October 7, 2016 - It’s not enough to know that the U-17 Women’s World Cup is the first of its kind in the Middle East - to understand the wider significance of this event means acknowledging the struggle for women to play football at all.
That is precisely why Moya Dodd visited the AIPS Young Reporters. Couple her lengthy service to FIFA and the Asian Football Federation with the enthusiasm and dedication radiating from her presence and here is the perfect spokesperson to widen perspectives when it comes to inequality in football.
Dodd opened up with an illustration of the historic imbalance between men and women in football, first of all delivering the devastating fact that the Football Association in England banned women from playing for half a century, adding that the decision “was the biggest injustice in sporting history.”
The ban stifled women’s football but the resilience shown by clubs in the 1920s, notably the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC factory team who took to rugby pitches when the FA barred them from club grounds, proved ultimately rewarding.
They were not alone in their fight: tens of thousands of supporters followed Dick, Kerr on a tour of defiance across America and Europe.
In 1971 the English ban was lifted, leaving the women’s game with 50 years to make up. But Dodd encouraged her audience to think about the wins that came in the next 45 years. Title IX in the United States one year later, for example, meant that an end to discrimination by any educational institution on the basis of gender.
The principle was simple, the result colossal.
More equality across institutions meant female players being awarded football scholarships as it was easier for the universities to fulfil the requirements with a team sport. Dodd described this federal law as “the single biggest factor in why women’s football is so popular in the US.”
The impact was not limited to the US or to the 1980s. Now hundreds of players benefit: Venezuela's under-17s captain Deyna Castellanos plays for Florida State University as a beneficiary of Title IX.
Despite the progress right up until the current U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, Dodd stated that “had the decision in 1921 been different we’d be living in a different society.” Instead, as she explained, “the message sent was that you can be excluded from the world’s most popular sport.”
A prime example of the exclusion to which Dodd referred was the Olympic qualifier when the Iranian and Jordanian teams were not permitted to play in Amman because their kits included the hijab.
This sparked a hard fought battle until the then FIFA vice-president, Jordan's Prince Ali bin Hussein, supported by Dodd, secured a change in the laws of the game permitting the wearing of a headscarf in senior competitive football.
Five years on, back in Amman, history was made when the Jordan's U-17 squad became the first team to field players wearing headscarves in a World Cup finals. Not even a 6-0 loss to Spain could dampen the message as millions of hijab girls were finally represented on the world stage, in the world’s favourite sport.
Visibility is not something to be restricted to the pitch since the need for diversity on the governance side of football is equally great.
Not only is inclusion important to discriminated groups but Dodd explained the corporate benefits, saying that “companies with more women on their boards are more profitable,” and adding: “Diversity is a very powerful tool.”
Dodd, in her role as chair of the FIFA taskforce for women's football, pressed for a rule insisting that decision-making bodies should include at least 30pc of women, reasoning that “30pc is the level when you stop being the woman in the room and become a person in the room.”
The future looks bright for women in football with increasing club investment, extra infrastructure from governing bodies and, above all, women footballers being celebrated.
Many more obstacles lie ahead but Dodd closed her talk with an optimistic pointer to further progress, saying: "Look at what women’s football is right now . . . and then think about what it could’ve been.”