Discussion around who will succeed Sunil Gulati as the next President of U.S Soccer has been intense, particularly since the current president announced that he would not be running for re-election. Ever since the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, a few questions have been circulating: how did this happen? And how can we ensure it doesn’t happen again?
Hope Solo shook up the conversation even more when she declared her intentions to join the race.
The former U.S. goalkeeper has a checkered past with both U.S. Soccer and it’s supporters, but Solo’s entry into the race deserves more attention than just her name. When Solo announced her candidacy via Facebook, she laid out a platform fundamentally different than that of other candidates. Her message was clear: yes, she wants to win matches. But she also wants to bring U.S. Soccer in line with principles of human rights.
Solo starts her announcement by talking about her own childhood. She talks about her own experiences with what has been deemed the “pay to play” system. She had to overcome a lot to find success—too much for most young athletes. It was clear in Solo’s announcement that her experiences in the youth system shaped her as both a player and a person, and will be critical to her approach as a business executive.
Unsurprisingly, Solo’s first point in her announcement was about creating a “winning” culture in U.S. Soccer. On the surface, this might seem a bit obvious. But the language that she uses is crucially different from that of her opponents. Solo proposes a focus on diversity in youth soccer as a path to developing a “winning” culture. By talking about diversity in this section of her platform, Solo alludes to the idea that the strength of the U.S team will come through its diversity. In fact, you could say that by including this statement in the ‘Know How To Win’ section, Solo is suggesting that everyone benefits from diversity and that U.S. Soccer cannot succeed without it.
Solo’s second point is about equal pay and women’s rights. She expands the concepts of equal pay and equal opportunity to the U.S Women’s National Team and all USSF female staff members. She draws on principles of non-discrimination, made clear when Solo writes that one of her goals is to “eliminate sexism and discrimination.”
The third point of Solo’s platform focuses on the youth system. She states that she wants to “address the issue of ‘pay to play.’” She wants to make soccer financially accessible to all, and demands socioeconomic diversity. This is perhaps the most intriguing point on Solo’s platform. From a human rights perspective, these statements once again draw on principles of non-discrimination, but also on the concept of a “right to play.” The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has a right “to engage in play and recreational activities.” In this point of her platform, Solo places the responsibility to fulfill this right on U.S Soccer.
But this point is flawed as well. It’s not clear how Solo plans on making soccer “financially accessible” to all. The vagueness of the term makes it difficult to imagine what achieving that goal might look like. Is her goal to make youth soccer free? If not, will U.S. Soccer be giving out scholarships for kids who cannot afford even a reduced price? How can we truly ensure that every child is given the opportunity to play soccer?
Solo’s final point in her platform states that she will make U.S. Soccer a “transparent” organization. The promotion of transparency implies that Americans who consume or partake in soccer have a right to participate in the decisions being made. This does more to bring people into the conversation and to forge a genuine connection between soccer consumers and the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Earlier in the announcement, Solo alludes to the idea that U.S Soccer has a corruption problem. She asks how a “profitable” non-profit with millions of dollars at its disposable had not made soccer accessible to all. She also points to many sources of revenue and says, “I certainly don’t know” where that money ended up. Corruption is a difficult problem for anyone to tackle, let alone someone who is new to this sort of leadership role. Her allusions should be concerning for everyone involved in U.S. Soccer, but one might raise the question of whether or not she’s ready to handle that sort of responsibility.
Solo’s platform prioritizes human dignity over capitalism. She seems to promote a rights-based approach to U.S. Soccer not only because she believes that it will help their teams win, but because she understands that respecting and promoting both equality and participation makes U.S. Soccer a stronger and better organization.
But Solo’s platform still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Her statements are vague, and so far we have not seen a clear plan as to how she plans to achieve these objectives. Considering her lack of experience, those plans are even more critical for her to prove she can do the job.
In addition, one must mention Solo’s isolating history with U.S Soccer. She tells a genuine narrative about her childhood and her struggle to get to the senior national team. But the fact remains that some U.S. Soccer fans will not be able to look past the accumulation of incidents that led U.S Soccer to terminate her contract after the 2016 Olympics. Regardless of what you think of Solo, the question remains—will her agenda be overshadowed by her personality?
Should Solo succeed in her campaign, it could have radical effects on the sport, both nationally and globally. In her announcement, Solo speaks of “shedding a mentality that is no longer acceptable” and “the importance of sports in the world order.” We all know that corruption and discrimination exist in FIFA, but Solo’s election could be the shove the world needs to start making necessary changes.
Minimally, one hopes that even if Solo is unsuccessful, maybe she can start some important conversations surrounding U.S. Soccer. Regardless of the way the election goes, she has made her goal clear.
“Soccer is the World’s game,” she wrote on Facebook. “I want to share it with all of America.”