Leveling the playing field
Former Matildas’ Vice-Captain and leading Australian telecommunications lawyer, Moya Dodd, was named overall winner of the 2016 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards for her impact on changing the global culture of football. She has championed reforms to boost gender equality both within FIFA and on the field, and insists plenty of runway remains to effect change on the world stage.
It’s hard to imagine how a young girl growing up in a small suburb of Adelaide, unaware of the ‘round ball game’, rises to a position of influence in the world’s most popular sport and drives momentous change for gender equality. For Moya Dodd, it is a matter of persistence, seizing opportunity and what she calls ‘happenstance’.
“I actually grew up playing Aussie Rules,” says the wonderfully relaxed and down-to earth Dodd.
“When I was about nine or ten, a kid moved to our primary school from Sydney who was a great lover of the round ball game and persuaded me to play with him. So we went hunting through the shed and found a flat basketball, which we kicked around for a while, and frankly I couldn’t see the attraction,” laughs Dodd.
It wasn’t until the family purchased a television (‘when colour television arrived’) that 12-year-old Dodd saw professional football (soccer) for the first time and ‘became completely mesmerised by it’.
“I would scour the newspaper every day for football news and one day I found in the very fine print the results of the women’s soccer league in Adelaide. I think there were six teams in a city of a million people or so, and one of them was near enough to my house that I could ride my bike there. So that is what I did,” says Dodd.
Fast forward 10 years and Dodd had made it into the Australian national women’s soccer team, the Matildas, joining the team in FIFA’s first official women’s tournament, held in China in 1988. It was a moment in history for Australian sport with a victory against Brazil (1 - 0) in the tournament’s first round.
By 1989 she had completed her law degree at Adelaide University and moved to Sydney to pursue her career in media and telecommunications law, and to play ‘in the best, top competitions in Australia’.
Dodd’s position of choice was attacking midfield, and while she points out it’s easy to stereotype people into different parts of the field, there is much to compare with her approach to life both on and off the pitch.
Playing midfield, she explains, is a game of percentages where you’re involved from start to finish. You have the task of positioning yourself in the right place for opportunities relative to your team mates and relative to the opposition, and you’re constantly readjusting your position for the state of the game.
Positioning herself on the board of Football Federation Australia (FFA), Moya was ready to seize the opportunity to join the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Committee when Australia moved to the AFC in 2006. She was later elected as the Confederation’s first female Vice President –– the first woman in the world to hold such a role.
She also joined AFC’s Legal Committee and the Women’s Football Committee, and in 2013 was appointed as a co-opted member of the FIFA Executive Committee, chairing FIFA’s Women’s Football Task Force where she presented 10 key principles for women’s football development to the approval of the 2014 FIFA Congress.
In the same year, working with then FIFA Vice President, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Dodd was instrumental in FIFA’s lifting of the ban on Muslim players wearing the hijab. By December 2015, FIFA’s executive committee also unanimously approved at least six women to sit on the committee.
“There is no doubt that a change like that [overturning the ban] is deeply significant in the region and across all Muslim women in the world, whose number is about half a billion,” says Dodd.
“When the under 17 Women’s World Cup played in Jordan last year there were a few players who did wear the hijab and it meant that little girls all over the world could see that on television and know that those players belonged to the most popular sport in the world. That is an important message of inclusion and accessibility for every kid in the world to see,” she says.
Growing up in Australia where ‘every kid gets the chance to play sport by and large, and every kid gets to go to school, it makes you feel very grateful’, Dodd says, pointing out that Australian women are now out-graduating men in universities in many disciplines, particularly in law.
Yet for Dodd it is our cultural diversity that is Australia’s great strength. Dodd’s mother is of Chinese descent and ‘grew up on a Chinese market garden in Sydney during the depression years’.
“We’re one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse populations in the world and that is truly to be embraced. Working in football you realise that almost every nation on earth has some residence in Australia. Whichever team comes here, they’ll find a local fan,” says Dodd.
“During the Asian Cup, we saw thousands and thousands of Asian fans coming out to watch their teams play. I think football itself is evolving from a game that was very Anglo-European to one that is more modern Australian and that means it includes more Asians.”
Dodd’s field of influence extends beyond the sporting arena. In her day job as Partner in the legal firm Gilbert + Tobin, she has worked extensively on broadband, mobile and NBN issues both in Australia and overseas, advising on next-generation network issues –– legal, regulatory and economic –– and has authored reports for public submission by the GSM Association (Europe) on digital rights management and IP interconnection.
This year, Best Lawyers Australia 2017 named Dodd in the Regulatory Practice and Telecommunications Law categories. For Dodd, positions in leadership come with wide scale responsibility, and while much headway has been gained in gender equality and acceptance of diversity, there is no room for complacency. The international sporting arena provides the perfect stage to nurture understanding and drive home change.
“Sport is maybe the only field upon which all nations can meet. In the 2011 Women’s World Cup finals, DPR Korea played the USA and you saw 90 minutes of warfare and no actual body count. Where else can you see warfare and confrontation without casualties? In April, the North Korean and South Korean Women’s teams played an Asian Cup qualifier in Pyongyang. The crowd was all in uniform, it was quite unique,” says Dodd.
“I think in an ever challenging world sport is more important than ever. Because it’s only through engagement that we can promote understanding and it’s only through understanding that we can promote peace.”