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FIFA reform lies in its own oasis of integrity

As the Women's World Cup begins in Canada, FIFA should be reminded that it is men's soccer that carries the weight of recent scandals. By elevating women's soccer, FIFA can raise its standards and restore its reputation.

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Canada's goalkeeper Erin McLeod (right) makes the save on China's Gu Yasha during a FIFA Women's World Cup soccer match in Edmonton, Alberta, June 6.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

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Soccer fans might be feeling a bit down these days. The world’s most popular sport now has two big scandals hanging over it.

The first is a recent report about large-scale match-fixing in world soccer by gambling syndicates, which had led one former security chief of FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, to say the game “is the most corrupted sport in the world today.”

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Then in May came the arrests of nine FIFA officials on charges of kickbacks and bribery in the selection of World Cup venues. The head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, was forced to resign, leaving the institution floundering and in search of ways to reform. More indictments at FIFA are promised by the United States Justice Department.

Can the purity of the “beautiful game” ever be restored?

Fans need not look too far for an answer. In one part of FIFA – women’s soccer (or football) – the sport’s purity was never lost and, in fact, might help the men’s side of FIFA recover its integrity.

On June 5, the Women’s World Cup began in the host country of Canada with the popularity of women’s soccer at a new high. Eight more countries are playing in this year’s World Cup, up from 16 at the 2011 tournament in Germany. The opening match between Canada and China in Edmonton, Alberta, was sold out with 50,000 fans. When Canada played Nigeria in an opening match 20 years ago, only 250 people showed up.

“Women’s football is a very pure form of football,” says Victor Montagliani, president of the Canadian Soccer Association. “I think women’s football can shine some light on the dark clouds that are hanging over the game.”

Part of the reform of FIFA should entail ending the sexism against women’s soccer within the male-dominated leadership of FIFA’s executive committee. Brazil’s superstar female soccer player Marta even suggests the next president of FIFA be a woman. (The outgoing president once suggested women players wear “tighter shorts” to attract more viewers.)

One sign of the rising popularity of women’s soccer: A new edition of a bestselling video game, EA Sports FIFA 16, will allow players to choose among a dozen women’s national teams.

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By elevating women’s soccer to the level of men’s, in such aspects as promotion money, FIFA can help regain its reputation and to refocus on spreading the sport in more countries – and to more girls.