Some thoughts on my 2021 FIFA Election
I've had some time to reflect on last week’s election now, and also to get some sleep - obligatory self-isolation helps of course! I’ve received so many incredibly supportive messages and plenty of requests to speak about the election and the result. The first thing to say is that I was under no illusions as to a. the size of the task we faced to unseat a powerful incumbent and b. that one often needs to lose in order to win. Given my firm intention to stand again for election to UEFA or FIFA, I'm also clear that we need to identify what we did well, alongside what more there is to do to get over the line. So here's my go at that...
Wales can go toe-to-toe with the very best and far more powerful nations providing we have a credible candidate standing on a compelling football platform. From a standing start, and with myself as an unknown candidate in many parts of European football, we picked up 40% of the total votes. That does not mean that most national associations are ready to support a genuine female football candidate - as indeed we saw. The time is becoming right (although by no means ideal) for the right woman candidate to succeed, not just for designated female places but beyond. The women who are losing football elections tend to be football women who are diligent and dedicated and not wired to see everything as an opportunity for political leverage. Maybe that’s where we are going wrong! But many nations are ready to back football women, and there’s a clear recognition amongst football’s leadership that something needs to change - and fast - to make football’s governance better resemble its participants and its fans.
The UEFA election was a secret ballot of course, but we’re pretty sure that, in winning the support of four in ten of all European nations, we picked up votes from some large, medium and small associations - from Scandinavia to the former Soviets, to the South and the Mediterranean. This is sound geo-politics, giving us a promising regional base across the whole of European football. Given we literally had nothing else to offer!, these nations all voted for me on the basis of my football profile and our manifesto pledges for reform. For me, this shows that authentic football candidates, immersed in the sport and able to credibly discuss future strategies and investment can win. But we also know that we are up against a countervailing culture where, let’s say, it’s less about football. Plus it is patently harder for women candidates when so few routes to election appear credibly open to us.
What we achieved this time, we did mostly on our own but we exploited every contact we had and every friend in UEFA and beyond. Wales is a relatively small, but generally well regarded and successful football nation. We faced up to a footballing superpower in Italy and ran them close, to within six votes of victory. I had a tremendous team working with me, but it was small and we operated on limited resources to say the least. In many respects, my campaign delivered more than any of us might have hoped for at the outset. We tapped into a rich vein of hope and aspiration in our nation, a widespread desire to see Wales succeed on the global stage. This was tremendously humbling. The campaign effort brought together people from across Wales and beyond - from within football and from outside - who saw that a positive, ambitious campaign could be hugely significant to the wider status and profile of our nation. The hundreds of offers of support and help that we received were incredibly touching and practically, extremely useful. It boosted our confidence and self-belief and literally allowed us to occasionally sleep!
Needless to say, I’m very proud of all that we achieved and my enthusiasm to be involved at the highest level of football governance remains undiminished. Having spent three days at the Congress in Montreux and met hundreds of people from across football, I now have a base and I want to make a useful contribution.
But, if I (or another candidate from Wales with the right credentials) is to win next time, we must build on this base and start planning now as to how we can get over the line. International sporting diplomacy doesn’t just kick into action at election times and it definitely requires resource and status. Since my defeat, I’ve received hugely encouraging messages from FA Presidents across Europe, many I’m sure who did not vote for me! I hope these underline the friends we managed to win over.
It was an honour to stand in this FIFA campaign and I’m very proud of all we achieved. It has definitely laid the building blocks for future success, but we need to capitalise on it now if we are to be successful next time. A positive, self-confident, reforming candidate can win but the next campaign needs to begin now.
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Mine is a life shaped by football. It’s been a massive part of my life for as long as I can remember - from the first time I kicked a ball as a little girl, to playing for Cardiff City Ladies FC. From my 24 caps as national team captain, and now in the work that I’m honoured to be doing with UEFA on women’s football. I feel very privileged to contribute to the sport that I love and which continues to inspire me every day.
My career in and away from football, both on and off the pitch, gives me a unique insight from a player’s perspective. I have experience in the elite and grass roots game - both women’s and men’s, in player development, coach education, governance and the drive for better equality and making football a game for everyone. I feel the time is now right for me to give back even more to my sport, and that’s why I’m standing for election as UEFA’s female representative on FIFA Council.
This is me
I am football through and through. I not only captained my country, playing every international match between 1994 and 2001, but I also played a leading role in fighting for the recognition of women’s international football at the Football Association of Wales back in the early 1990s.
Since hanging up my boots, I have been involved in senior roles in sports governance, especially in football. I have worked with the FAW to develop a stronger pathway for elite players, as well as helping to expand and strengthen grassroots and community football for women and girls, men and boys. I have also assisted the FAW with the modernisation of the association and with improving diversity and equality.
I was Chair of Sport Wales between 2010 and 2016 and a former Board Member of UK Sport at the time of the hugely successful London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. I am a Board Director of the FAW Trust and since 2016, have been a Deputy Chairperson of UEFA’s Women’s Football Committee. I have worked closely with UEFA on Women’s Football, contributing to the UEFA women’s strategy, ‘Time for Action’, the review of the UEFA Women’s Champions League regulations, and am now part of UEFA’s new Women’s Football Strategy Steering Group, reviewing progress and priorities for European women’s football.
Outside of football, I am a graduate in Politics from the London School of Economics and am now Professor of Public Policy and the Governance of Wales at Cardiff University. I work very closely with the Welsh Parliament and other national bodies on policy, diversity and constitutional reform.
My partner Llinos and I have two young daughters, Annie and Isabella, who both play football and love watching Wales and Cardiff City play!
FIFA election campaign
A Football Candidate
First and foremost, I am a football person. I care passionately about our game, its unique role in our communities and the force for good that football can be across the world. If you put your trust in me, these are the themes that will inspire my efforts to represent every single member of the UEFA family at FIFA.
If I am successful, I would be honoured to be UEFA’s first female member on FIFA Council to have played internationally and to have captained my country. I would bring to the UEFA and FIFA families the drive, passion and diligence that has underpinned my playing and professional careers.
"My values remain exactly the same. That is to make football a game for everybody and to have the best practice in governance and to diversify and modernise it."
Statement: European Super League
I’m deeply concerned by the prospect of a breakaway European superleague. The implications would be devastating to the game from grassroots to most clubs to international level. The whole model that has worked so well for so long would be up-ended with potentially catastrophic implications for funding not just of wider European football, but world football at a critical time.
Leading Clubs are obviously an important part of the football matrix, but the selfish actions of a few could now threaten the stability and funding structures on which Member Associations and our game - from grassroots to national teams for men and women - rely so heavily. I wonder also if this small group of clubs have properly explained to their leading players that such a breakaway could threaten their international careers.
And I’m also very concerned that fans have had no say whatsoever in this steamroller proposal.
I very much hope that sense will prevail and the small group pushing for a non sanctioned super league can be made to see the much bigger picture, instead of pursuing short term gain.
“I’m a football candidate, I have lived my life through football from a small child all the way up to being captain of my national team and then being involved in the governance of the game.
“I do think it’s really important we have voices around the table who can speak with authority, knowledge and experience of the game – and I don’t just mean the women’s game.”