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The lessons sport can teach us

09 January 2017

Overall Winner Moya Dodd

Moya Dodd (above right) grew up in Adelaide in a family where playing sport was encouraged. Her father, a fireman, discovered a passion for skiing and sailing and his family joined him.

“Every year we would set off in the station wagon for a week on the Victorian ski fields,” remembers Moya, “and when my Dad became interested in sailing and bought a boat, we learned to sail.”

The fifth woman to be awarded the top Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence award, Moya joins Jan Owen, Adele Green, Elizabeth Broderick and Ann Sherry leading the 500-strong-pack of influential Australian women unearthed by the awards.

Team sports were something Moya played at school because, she explains, there weren’t the resources available in a one-car family to attend extra curricula training and activities. That was a set of circumstances that changed when she discovered the local football club within cycling distance of her home.

“It was one of the few women’s football teams in Adelaide in the 1970s and we were a curiosity,” she says.

Football was a sport for ethnic minorities in Australia at that time. Add to that what Moya calls its “museum culture – it wasn’t Adelaide in the 1980s but somewhere else in the 1960s that was the idealised social setting of these clubs” – and it’s easy to understand why women and girls wanting to play football was seen as unusual.

The circumstances weren’t the most conducive for forging a career in football but Moya went on to be the Matildas’ Vice Captain; has been an FFA board director, AFC vice-president, and is a member of both FIFA's and AFC's legal committees. Since 2013 Moya has been a co-opted member of the FIFA executive.

Her “day job” - at Gilbert+Tobin - is as a lawyer in its Competition and Regulation group, providing strategic legal and regulatory advice in telecommunications and media sectors.

Training as a lawyer, Moya says, has taught her how to think, not just practice law.

Gathering and assessing facts, developing arguments and advocating are useful skills to have anywhere and play a large part in how she has successfully exerted influence to bring diversity to the world of football.

A co-opted member of the FIFA executive has no budget, no staff and no vote. However, her position on the executive does secure the time and opportunity to interact with people who do have direct power.

“The first thing I had to do was figure out how things worked and how deals were made,” says Moya of her influence in the world of football.

“I like to watch people’s eyes in meetings to see who they’re engaging with, what engages them, sparks their interest and makes them act. Once you’ve mapped out that, you have to figure out the mechanism by which decisions are made, because decisions are not made in the meeting,” she explains.

Getting access to the right people and in the “right corridors”, or to someone who is able to influence people and the process, becomes all important. Moya also learned that “railing against something you don’t like isn’t effective if you can’t change the minds of the people responsible for it”.

Not that she sees protest behaviour as ineffective, but it just wasn’t going to be an effective behaviour for her in the context in which she was operating of FIFA.

Timing, says Moya, can also play an important part in exerting influence effectively and creating change.

“My experience in FIFA was dramatic. There were arrests and indictments in 2015 and the legal pressure brought to bear on the organisation meant that when people went, for whatever reason, it created a vacuum, further revealing the need for change in the organisation. The challenge as I saw it was to bring more gender equality to football, to introduce an American Title IX concept to football,” she says.

Title IX is an American Federal law that mandates equal participation opportunities - including in sport - for male and female students in secondary and post-secondary institutions of higher education. Moya believes that for many years sport has been an important socio-cultural learning experience for boys and men and those same benefits should be afforded our daughters. Title-IX-style policies, she says, goes some way toward ensuring that and Moya concentrated her efforts on ensuring the right people had time to think about and see the benefit of taking the concept on board for football.

Her efforts to date have been relatively successful – she has seen the acceptance of head gear for Muslim women on the field and greater access and acceptance of women in the sport.

As Moya notes, sport has obvious health benefits. The sense of achievement and incremental improvement players experience can also boost self-esteem and confidence and team sports provide opportunities for friendships, social learning, and networks. However, for Moya, the most important aspect is that the participation by girls and women in sport sends a message about equality: “If a girl plays sport the world sees her differently. It sends a message that she is equally capable of contributing as her brother is. If a boy sees a girl getting into the game, participating, winning the ball, jumping, kicking, the message is she belongs. The message is she is as entitled as he is to participate fully in sport and society. That’s a lesson money can’t buy.”