Politics in football, like those in other persuasions, has a fairly murky reputation riven as it is with cloaked backroom deals and shady careerists more concerned with personal enhancement than unified progress.
There are some among the ranks, however, who are there – or fighting to get there – purely for the betterment of the sport and a key step in that process takes place in India on Tuesday when the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) elects its three representatives for the newly branded FIFA Council.
Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin and China’s Zhang Jian are among the candidates, but for the first time one of the seats must go to a female candidate as the game’s governing body attempts to clean up and repair its tarnished image.
With global politics already swirling around the process after Qatari Saoud Al Mohannadi was banned from standing this week, Asia must carefully consider just who they want to be the voice of the continent on the global stage.
While little is known of two of the three female candidates – Bangladesh’s Mahfuza Ahkter and North Korean Han Un-gyong – the third, Australia’s Moya Dodd, is probably the most important person in Asian football you’ve never heard of.
Unlike the vast majority of football administrators right across the sport in Asia, Dodd played the game at the highest level, representing the Australian national team for almost a decade, and in her post-playing days she’s enjoyed a successful legal career while holding a range of posts within the AFC, FIFA and the Football Federation of Australia.
She has been a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion and a champion of opening up and growing the sport loved and played by millions of girls and women right across Asia.
More than that though she wants to fight to make sure that the AFC is pushing its causes and concerns at the top table and, as part of that, has called for an overhaul of the current FIFA Rankings which she believes work against Asia.
“Asia is not only the biggest but also the fastest growing confederation in FIFA and the current ranking system works to disadvantage Asia where every time national teams play matches there are weighting factors built in that benefit other confederations,” she tells FourFourTwo.
“It’s a negative reinforcement and it makes it more difficult for Asian countries to get games and be recognised and we’re slower to accumulate points than the so-called leading confederations because of the discount applied to teams from Europe and South America.
“So that’s something that we definitely need to look at.”
If that’s the macro, then the micro is also trying to improve the game in her own Southeast Asia backyard, a region she sees as having tremendous scope for growth.
“Everyone acknowledges that there are problems in the sport in the region and we have to work hard to try to fix some of those issues in Southeast Asia, of which match fixing is definitely one, and we’re working as hard as we can to do that,” she said.
“But I also believe there’s tremendous opportunity for football in Southeast Asia.
Presenting the Woman AFC player of the year award to Japan's Aya Miyama back in 2012
“The ASEAN region is a fast-growing one economically and in football too so we need to work to improve the ability of nations to strengthen and develop the game.
“That means making sure that there are more qualified coaches and referees, that there are more fields to play on, that the level of infrastructure is improved and that there’s access to all of these things for children to learn and grow with the game under the best possible conditions.”
It’s that transformative power of the sport that Dodd wants to continue championing, especially after she had a first-hand look at how the game can quite literally save lives in Mexico earlier this year.
On the sidelines of a FIFA meeting there was a football tournament for girls organised by a local indigenous group encouraging their participation in the sport.
The Australian went along to watch when she was struck by an event that has remained with her ever since, as she tells FourFourTwo.
“It was International Women’s Day and here we had this tournament where there were men and women coming to watch the girls play and during that event, one man had been watching on when he approached one of the organisers and asked for her help.
“He told them that there was a teacher at the local school who had been showing pornography and raping the students and asked whether there was any way they could help those girls.
“That teacher has now been removed and the local agencies are investigating him all because of something that was triggered in that man to ask these women for help whilst watching these girls play football.
“He saw these girls as people, enjoying a sport in a team environment and striving to win, and that triggered him to act on something that he had obviously known about for some time.
“That’s why football is so important for the world and for society everywhere and shows the power for change that the game can have.”
That’s something Dodd wants to keep working on, even if she acknowledges that FIFA’s reputation is still far from being totally repaired.
“I know a lot of people are skeptical about football politics but we need to keep pushing on the path of reform that we have been and in my time as a co-opted member of the FIFA Executive I’ve already seen a great push for change and reform – but we need to keep that going,” she declared.
“There’s been a lot of indictments, there have been arrests and bans and the priority for everyone now at FIFA, with a lot of new-look and younger members, is to keep that change going and for Asia that means we must have the strongest possible group there to help that process.
“We have to remember too the power for football to change lives right across the world and especially here in Asia.
“When I was in India recently I had the chance to experience blind football for the first time and again it hits home to you the power of the game and it’s where FIFA can make a difference.
“Not everyone can be Lionel Messi or Marta, but this game gives gifts to everyone who plays and you can’t put a price on that.”
Photos: Getty Images