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Women can make a difference at FIFA, says Dodd

By Patrick Johnston

(Reuters) - The introduction of a female seat on FIFA's executive committee is a significant step in gender inequality being eradicated from the game and not a token position, Australian candidate Moya Dodd told Reuters.

A female seat on the executive committee was first proposed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2011 before being adopted a year later with the first election due to take place this month.

Dodd, a former player, commentator and current lawyer, is up for the role but faces competition.

Also in the running are New Zealand's Paula Kearns, Sonia Bien-Aime of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Lydia Nsekera, the President of the Burundi Football Association, who has been the co-opted member of FIFA ExCo since 2012.

The successful candidate will be decided by a vote at the FIFA Congress in Mauritius on May 31 and Dodd believes whoever wins the seat on the all-powerful board, which rules on the sport's significant issues, must seize the opportunity.

"For me personally it would be a very significant step. I hope that whoever takes the seat makes a real tangible contribution and I suppose exceeds expectation as to what she can contribute," Dodd told Reuters.

"There are some absolutely outstanding women in football globally, some aspiring, very competent women and it would be great to see that contribution happening in the FIFA ExCo, the top table of world football."

FIFA has faced accusations of sexism in the past. In 2004, Blatter drew outrage when he suggested women footballers should wear tighter shorts.

In March, anti-corruption expert and member of FIFA's reform committee Alexandra Wrage accused the world governing body of 'blatant sexism' after she said an unnamed FIFA official told her that it was not acceptable for a woman to hold such a role in the organization. She resigned in April.

Dodd said that women had long faced struggles at all levels in the game but that the newly-created role was not an attempt by FIFA to plaster over past sexism accusations.

"Is it a token position? I wouldn't treat it as that. If you are given an opportunity to contribute to the top table then you have got to make the most of that opportunity.

"I do think the football world is tilted against women from the time they begin to play or don't, as the case may be, right through to the opportunities for coaching, refereeing and other non playing on-field activities through to the governance structures, committee rooms and boardrooms.

"That is the world we live in and that's why it's so important that these positions are being created for female members around the world.

"I have sat in boardrooms and it is easy for women's football to slip off the agenda or become a low priority. If we have women in the boardroom advocating for it, then it is going to be much be much better represented and I hope I can do it."

Blatter was in Kuala Lumpur to see Dodd elected unopposed to the role of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) vice president on Thursday.

The 77-year-old Swiss hailed Asia for including women in senior positions with Dodd and Bangladesh's Mahfuza Akhter being joined on the AFC's executive committee on Thursday by North Korea's Han Un-gyong and Susan Shalabi Molano of Palestine.

"What a realization after 108 years, what a patience for the women and what a stubborn organization for men not to accept women in their organization but this will be changed now," Blatter told AFC delegates last week about the newly-created FIFA seat.

Understandably, Dodd is keen not to be pigeonholed. She has assembled an impressive resume, which includes a victory over Brazil in FIFA's women's invitational tournament in 1988, three years before the inaugural women's World Cup.

"One day I would love to get to the point where your gender is not a matter of comment," said the 48-year-old, who first joined the AFC in 2007, shortly after Australia's inclusion in the confederation.

"I don't want to be famous for being female, I would just like to be good at what I do and become known for having made a contribution but that day is some way off."

Also some way off, but inevitable, is a time when men and women will go head-to-head for roles in FIFA, she says.

"All things happen eventually, but it would be a long time. So creating seats for female members will accelerate something that would otherwise be a very slow process.

"I'm not sure when you will get to the stage where female members are challenging for the seats that are not reserved for them. But this is a step towards it, so it's a good thing."

(Reporting by Patrick Johnston)

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