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Disparities in Funding and Governance in Asian Football Confederation: A Call for Change

The recent findings from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)’s annual conference have shed light on significant disparities in funding between men’s and women’s football, highlighting the persistent inequalities within the sport. These findings are critical as they reflect broader systemic issues that resonate within the AFC and across the global football community governed by FIFA.


Disparities in Funding

The AFC’s financial report for 2023 paints a stark picture of the funding disparities between men’s and women’s football competitions. For instance, the premier men’s club competition, the AFC Champions League, received a staggering USD 33.8 million in funding, while the AFC Women’s Club Championship was allocated a mere USD 0.9 million (AFC). These disparities translate into real-world consequences, such as limited opportunities for training camps, fewer matches, and a lack of resources for talent development in women’s football​​. Similarly, the AFC contributed a staggering USD 15 million to the most recent 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup whilst only providing the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup USD 2.5 million - a mere 17% of the contribution to the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup. 


This inequitable distribution of resources contradicts the principles of fairness and equality that should underpin all sports. It stifles the development of women’s football by limiting opportunities for training, competition, and professional growth, thereby perpetuating a cycle of underperformance and underinvestment.


In the broader context, this disparity is also evident within FIFA’s funding mechanisms. Despite women’s football’s increasing popularity and success, prize money and development funds remain disproportionately skewed in favour of men’s football. For instance, the total prize money for the 2018 Men’s World Cup was USD 400 million, while the 2019 Women’s World Cup received only USD 30 million. More recently, the prize money for the 2022 Men’s World Cup was USD 440 million, whereas the 2023 Women’s World Cup was allocated USD 110 million. These figures underscore the immense potential of women’s football, a potential that can only be fully realised with equal funding and governance. Such funding imbalances reflect a long-standing bias that undermines the growth and recognition of women’s football on a global scale.


Underrepresentation of Women in Leadership

The governance structures within the AFC reveal a stark reality: Of the 31 members in the various executive and senior committees, only five are women, approximately 16%​​ (AFC). This underrepresentation is not just a statistic but a significant barrier to achieving gender equality in football. It limits the diversity of perspectives and experiences crucial for making inclusive decisions, and it is a barrier that needs to be broken down for the sport to progress truly.


Academic research consistently supports the notion that diverse boards lead to better governance outcomes (Terjesen et al.). Studies have shown that including women in leadership can enhance board effectiveness and organisational performance (Ordway). The AFC’s current gender composition starkly contrasts these findings, underscoring the need for more inclusive governance practices. By including more women in decision-making roles, the AFC can tap into a wider range of perspectives and experiences, leading to more informed and inclusive decisions.


Gender quotas have been extensively studied in various contexts, including sports governance. These quotas are policies that mandate a certain percentage of women to be included in decision-making roles. Schofield and Adriaanse (2014) highlight that gender quotas can significantly improve the representation of women in decision-making roles. This, in turn, can lead to more equitable policy outcomes and a greater focus on issues that affect women in sports. By implementing gender quotas, the AFC can ensure a more balanced representation and a more inclusive decision-making process.


Removal of Term Limits

At the AFC conference, a controversial decision was made to remove term limits for executive positions, allowing leaders to remain in power indefinitely. This decision has significant implications for the future of the AFC, as it could lead to a lack of fresh ideas and perspectives and the entrenchment of power. Women Onside strongly opposes this move, as it is contrary to principles of good governance. Term limits are essential for ensuring accountability, fostering innovation, and preventing the entrenchment of power. Research has shown that long tenures in leadership positions can lead to complacency and corruption, undermining the integrity of the sport (Jennings, 2006; Jennings, 2016; Tomlinson, 2014).


Football Australia voted against this decision, aligning with best governance practices. Football Australia’s opposition reflects a commitment to transparency and accountability, principles vital for football’s sustainable growth.


Championing Women’s Participation in Decision-Making

The AFC’s annual report indicates a commitment to the growth of women’s football through initiatives such as introducing the AFC Women’s Champions League. However, these efforts must be accompanied by structural changes that promote gender equality at all levels of the sport.


Historical examples, such as the gender quotas in the corporate sector, have demonstrated the effectiveness of such measures in enhancing governance and performance (Schofield & Adriaanse, 2014). Additionally, policies should be introduced to ensure equal funding and resources for women’s football, reflecting the sport’s growing popularity and potential.


A critical examination of FIFA’s reforms post-2015 corruption crisis, led by figures like Moya Dodd, underscores the importance of including women in governance to drive meaningful change. Dodd’s efforts within FIFA exemplify how women’s voices can shape policy and governance structures to be more inclusive and equitable (Ordway & Symons, 2023).


Conclusion

The disparities in funding and representation highlighted by the AFC’s annual conference are not just administrative oversights; they indicate deeper systemic issues that must be addressed urgently. Women Onside, a leading advocate for gender equality in football, calls for a concerted effort to rectify these imbalances, advocating for equal funding, inclusive governance, and women’s empowerment at all levels of football.


By championing these changes, we can work towards a more equitable and inclusive future for football, where women have equal opportunities to excel and contribute to the sport. The AFC and other football governing bodies must commit to these principles but need help to do so.


Women Onside advocates for implementing quotas to ensure a minimum representation of women in decision-making roles, but we need your support, advocacy, and voice. Together, we can ensure that football becomes a sport for all, where gender is not a barrier but a strength.


References

  1. AFC. (2024). 34th AFC Congress 2024 - Financial Report 2023. https://www.the-afc.com/en/more/content/34th_afc_congress_2024_-_financial_report_2023.html

  2. AFC. (2024). 34th AFC Congress 2024 - Activity Report. https://www.the-afc.com/en/more/content/34th_afc_congress_2024_-_activity_report.html

  3. AFC. (2024). Executive Committee. https://www.the-afc.com/en/about_afc/committees/executive_committee.html

  4. Ordway, C., & Symons, K. (2023). It Doesn’t Happen by Magic: Creatively Exploring the Process of Changemaking in Sport Through Moya Dodd and FIFA.

  5. Schofield, T., & Adriaanse, J. (2014). The Impact of Gender Quotas in Sport.

  6. Dodd, H., & Ordway, C. (2023). FIFA Governance Crisis.

  7. Terjesen, S., Couto, E. B., & Francisco, P. M. Does the presence of independent and female directors impact firm performance? A multi-country study of board diversity.

  8. Jennings, A. (2006). Foul!: The secret world of FIFA: Bribes, vote rigging and ticket scandals. London, Harper Sport.

  9. Jennings, A. (2016). The dirty game: Uncovering the scandal at FIFA. Random House.

  10. Tomlinson, A. (2014). The supreme leader sails on: Leadership, ethics and governance in FIFA. Sport in Society, p. 17, 1155–1169.

 

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