Happy International Women’s Day!

GUERREIRASPROJECT representatives Caitlin Fisher and Marisa Schlenker participated in the 2nd annual FIFA Women’s Football & Leadership Conference 2016 held in Zurich, Switzerland March 7th.

Fish & Oshoala

7 March 2016 – Fisher and Oshoala at the FIFA Women’s Leadership Conference 2016, Zurich, Switzerland

The theme of this year’s event was ‘equality through reform’, opened with the keynote speech by Billie Jean King. The three main sections of the event were dedicated to discussing: 1. Taking Women’s Football to the Next Level, where we heard from Abby Wambach and Nigerian star player Asisat Lamina Oshoala, amongst others; followed by 2. Diversity for Success with contributions from the renown Sociologist and Gender Professor Michael Kimmel and former Olympian Donna de Varona; and lastly 3. The 2016 FIFA Reforms, with the keynote speech by Kristin Hetle from UN Women, Sunil Galati, Head of US Soccer Federation, and Moya Dodd, from FIFA’s Executive Committee and leader of the gender equality reforms.

It was an interesting event overall with some strong contributions and discussions around the important progress being made within FIFA. Billie Jean King’s message, quoted from Julie Foudy, that ‘the goal is not to just reform but to transform’ was a powerful way to start and offered hope that we can think about the deeper structural issues driving inequality.

One of the main highlights was when Moya Dodd turned to FIFA’s newly elected president Gianni Infantino, who joined the event for a speech and a panel, and boldly confronted him with the statement that women’s football is not one of the many problems on his long list, as he had previously alluded to, but rather a key part of the solution. She outlined three main points for him to consider with regards to women’s football as the solution, with first being the commercial business case behind the women’s game; the second being that women can help transform the FIFA brand into something positive; and the third that there are thousands of women football soldiers out there ready to advance the game for women.

There was, however, a lack of discussion and acknowledgement overall as to the way that women’s football has been positioned within the larger structures and how its marginalization is byproduct of its embededdness in these structures, not something outside of them. There was a great deal of emphasis on the way in which women’s football offers a fertile ground for building the economic model and commercializing the women’s game–but little was done to acknowledge that chasing after the football business model as we know it (the men’s game) and trying to emulate this is not and should not be our aim. Business as usual is not only not working, it is based on a culture of corruption, greed, commodification and exploitation. We need to be a little bit more critical in terms of thinking about what it will mean to ‘commercialize’ the women’s game and to stop and recognize that there are also a lot of good things currently going on in the women’s game: the connection to the grassroots and local communities, the accessibility and affordability of matches, the passion, dedication and drive that have been uninhabited by commercializing forces.  Yes, the women’s game needs to a model to sustain itself and generate revenue, but how we pursue this path needs to be done very carefully and thoughtfully with an entirely different, pioneering approach…what that looks like, we still need to define together with all football stakeholders. It starts with building alliances and a deeper shared understanding that we are all hurting from this system as we know it.

To read more about the potential for the women’s game to be pioneer game-changers and pave a new way for the sport, see Fisher’s recent article ‘Female Game-Changers in a Field Bent Out of Shape.’