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Billie Jean King urges Infantino to hire women in FIFA jobs

March 7, 2016

ZURICH (AP) — Tennis great Billie Jean King served new FIFA president Gianni Infantino with a challenge on Monday: Hire more women for top jobs.

After years of corruption scandals, the male-dominated soccer world body has a chance to transform itself, King said in a keynote speech at FIFA headquarters.

Infantino took over a FIFA with no women in top management having responsibility for soccer, commercial, legal or financial issues after more than 17 years under former president Sepp Blatter.

“No pressure, but the world is counting on you,” King said, with Infantino having a front-row seat to hear the long-time equal rights activist address a women’s soccer leadership conference.

King later met with Infantino, who was elected 10 days earlier after an intense campaign traveling to woo most member federations in their home countries.

“He seems very sincere and he said he’s all in,” she told reporters. “He really paid his dues by going to (voters), reaching out to them. That shows good leadership.”

King, a pioneer for women’s tennis who won 39 Grand Slam titles, suggested “three concrete steps” for FIFA to take: one-third of management hires should be women; appoint a CEO-like secretary general with “a proven track record of supporting gender equality”; appoint staff to create a commercial strategy for women’s soccer.

Infantino had been elected hours after FIFA members also voted through a reform package that commits them to promote women’s soccer.

“Not only are these reforms the right moral path but they make smart business sense,” King said in her speech. “The business of women’s football has a tremendous upside and it’s FIFA’s obligation to invest in the assets needed.”

The allegations that tainted FIFA in recent years, and forced Blatter’s early exit, have been blamed partly on a so-called old boys’ network. FIFA never had a female member on its executive committee in more than a century until 2012, but by next year should have at least six — one from each confederation — on an expanded and rebranded 37-member FIFA Council.

“We can’t just have a seat at the table,” said King, who works with the same American corporate advisory firm as FIFA. “It is about having a voice at the table.”

Still, that proportion of 16 percent falls short of the 30 percent target set last year for all FIFA committees by women’s soccer activists for the governing body reforms steering group, which included Infantino.

“It is a minimum of six, it must be more,” Infantino said in comments to close the annual event FIFA hosts to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8.

The former general secretary of European soccer body UEFA won early praise from United States great Abby Wambach, who publicly sparred with Blatter and the FIFA administration in the final years of her career.

“I think he is up to the task,” Wambach said of Infantino, after pushing for FIFA to create a women’s Club World Cup. “It excites me because he has seen the growth of the women’s Champions League at UEFA.”

Wambach, a winner of World Cup, Olympic and FIFA world player of the year titles, said she “would not be opposed” to serving on a future FIFA committee. FIFA will soon appoint members for a committee system made more focused in the reforms process to cut costs and limit patronage.

Infantino opened his working day at the office committing FIFA “to embrace equality,” and quipped that with four young daughters, he must “make sure there is enough opportunity for them in the future.”

Two members of Infantino’s executive committee, Sunil Gulati of the U.S. and Moya Dodd of Australia, stressed to him that FIFA was “still in crisis mode,” and could add income and diversify by focusing on the women’s World Cup.

“All the horrible things you hear about FIFA, none of them you hear about women’s football,” said Dodd, a former international player. “We’re part of the solution and here is the opportunity for you, commercially.”

Infantino later pledged to “push ambitious targets and let us see where we get to. You will have the passion, the commitment from my side.”