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Abby Wambach may be right on women and FIFA corruption

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When USA superstar Abby Wambach speaks on the issue of women in sports, she is undoubtedly an expert. She has been one of the sharpest critics of FIFA's disparate treatment of women, especially during the recent World Cups, on the topics of playing surface and differing prize pools. Recently, she made a different claim that grabbed my attention:

"I think it's been made clear that corruption in FIFA is maybe in large part because there aren't enough women."

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Is Abby right in general that more women in positions of power leads to less corruption? If this is true in general, is the analysis the same for FIFA as an institution? I turned to some research on the issue, and my conclusion is "maybe."

Gender and corruption is a hot topic of debate amongst researchers. This is perhaps because the question can be phrased in a fairly controversial manner: "Are women inherently more ethical than men?" Or, more bluntly, "Are women inherently better than men?" Obviously the topic is far more complex than that simplistic reduction, but the debate lends itself to controversy.

Before going further, I will note that I am no expert on this topic. I just did some internet searches and tried to pick out some good discussions from what I found. I have little frame of reference for the quality of the links and papers presented, so some of these might be of poor quality for reasons I cannot easily see. Hopefully the quality is high enough to draw some conclusions though.

The Anti-Corruption Research Network provides a good overview of the topic for our discussion. There is an undeniable correlation between greater involvement of women in government and lower levels of corruption. However, the debate is why these two are correlated, since, say it together class, correlation does not mean causation. One interesting theory is that societal structures deny women the opportunity to be corrupt. Another is that the liberal democracies that lead to greater participation of women in government limit opportunities for corruption. On the other hand, studies have found that women have a lower tolerance for corruption, a finding that may be true for women at all levels of prosperity. Studies have also found that women are generally more risk-averse than men, and are correspondingly less likely to engage in corruption.

If it is true that women are less tolerant of corruption and are more risk-averse, it seems logical that placing more women in power at FIFA would help curb corruption in soccer. To the contrary, as FIFA is notorious for its lack of internal accountability, if accountability is the biggest factor in the emergence of corruption then adding women would not have a significant effect.

Whatever the truth may be, I think we can all agree that more gender equality is a good thing. FIFA should pursue gender equality, which may have the bonus effect of stemming corruption. However, additional anti-corruption measures should be taken to increase accountability. These are admirable goals for Abby to pursue.