Football feminism: Addressing discrimination through FIFA’s structures, rules, and governance practices

Published 21 June 2022


Private authorities play an important role in shaping the rights and obligations of people, sometimes even more so than national laws or international conventions. As a non-state actor, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is unmistakably exercising transnational authority with considerable consequences for women.

Asser Institute researchers Daniela Heerdt and Antoine Duval have each contributed an article to International Journal of Constitutional Law examining the rights and obligations of women under FIFA’s structures and rules.  

The articles stem from their participation in the ‘Global Governance Perspectives Symposium’ held at New York University School of Law in February 2020, which explored the operation of discrimination in and through the structures, rules, and practices of football governance.

Taking feminism beyond the state: FIFA as a transnational battleground for feminist legal critique

In this paper, Asser researcher Antoine Duval offers a feminist critique of the activities and structures of the FIFA highlighting three main points: the allocation of economic resources by FIFA, the number of executive positions held by women, and a public-private divide which places most female players outside the scope of their rules and regulations (and related protections).

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) plays a fundamental role in defining and asserting the boundary between men and women in football. Its decisions condition the way the game is played, the way players and clubs contract, and the way the FIFA World Cup is organised and experienced by people around the world. FIFA’s private transnational governance regime is, at least hypothetically, as prone to gender bias and discrimination as states or international organizations. Nevertheless, feminist legal scholars have rarely directed their sights on transnational private regulators such as FIFA. This article suggests to take the feminist legal critique beyond its traditional battlegrounds and highlights FIFA as a transnational governance site deserving feminist scrutiny. While it does not advocate for the introduction of specific policies, it aims to provide a convincing justification and a helpful roadmap for future feminist engagements with FIFA.

Read the full article.

Antoine Duval, ‘Taking feminism beyond the state: FIFA as a transnational battleground for feminist legal critique,’ International Journal of Constitutional Law, 2022.

Elements for FIFA’s feminist transformation: The case for indicators on football and women’s rights

In her paper, co-authored with Nadia Bernaz of Wageningen University, Asser researcher Daniela Heerdt uses the UNGP gender framework as a starting point for potentially guiding FIFA’s feminist transformation. In order to measure the progress made in the transformation to a more equitable structure, they propose a number of indicators that could be used to track and measure this transformation. They also propose FIFA use the MAs survey or the evaluation system used by FIFA’s Human Rights Advisory Board and exploit its leverage over MAs and confederations to protect women in the sport.

In 2015, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) commissioned John Ruggie, the architect of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), to help FIFA embed human rights into its operations, taking the UNGPs as the “authoritative standard.” In the following years, FIFA made a number of human rights-related commitments and policy changes. However, progress has been more limited in relation to women’s rights. Cases of women’s rights abuses related to football occur regularly and remain unresolved. In this article we explore key elements for a feminist transformation of FIFA’s policies and practices based on the gender framework developed by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in 2019. We consider the use of indicators as one way to achieve this transformation. Overall, we aim to answer the following research question: how can the 2019 UNGP gender framework help FIFA engage in a feminist transformation of their human rights policies and practices in a way that includes FIFA’s confederations and member associations?

Read the full article.

Daniela Heerdt, Nadia Bernaz, ‘Elements for FIFA’s feminist transformation: The case for indicators on football and women’s rights,’ International Journal of Constitutional Law, 2022.

Learn more about sports and human rights

The impact of sport governing bodies on human rights is becoming increasingly relevant with the IOC coming under heavy criticism from athletes during the Beijing Olympics and FIFA as well due to the human rights situation in Qatar. Daniela Heerdt has set up an exciting summer programme ‘Sports governance and human rights’ with speakers from FIFA, the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), FIFPro and many more where you can delve into all the aspects of sports and human rights. You will learn how to draft a human rights policy, visit the FIFPro headquarters in Hoofddorp, go over the case study of the Qatar World Cup, learn how to set up structures to protect child athletes and even fans.

Sign up before 17 July and get a discounted rate!




Dr Daniela Heerdt
Dr Antoine Duval LL.M.