Q&A: Kathy Carter on her USSF presidential candidacy
Ahead of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) presidential election on Feb. 10, espnW spoke with Kathy Carter to discuss her candidacy, the criticism she's received during the campaign and her vision for the future of soccer in the United States.
espnW: Why do you want to be the next president of U.S. Soccer?
Kathy Carter: I have grown up in the game. It has been a part of every aspect of my life. I played all the way through to the youth national team. I was at the camp [around 1985 or '86] when [former U.S. women's national team player and espnW correspondent] Julie Foudy was pulled up to the senior team. I've had the great fortune to spend 25 years in the business. When I looked back and thought about the next generation of our Federation, I thought about a few things: How often do you have the opportunity to give to something that has given you as much as this game has given me? And, if not now, when? If not now for a woman to run, when?
Ultimately, I've got a unique mix of the sporting, business and professional side. I think I'm the most qualified candidate. I happen to be a woman, and I would be lying if I didn't think that even running, hopefully winning, provides young girls an opportunity to look at what our athletes do, including doing great things in business and administration.
espnW: What is your response to the criticism that your current role as CEO of Soccer United Marketing (SUM) causes a conflict of interest for you in this campaign?
KC: I've taken a leave of absence from SUM, and should I be elected, I will leave my job. I believe there continues to be a need for transparency. The board decides on these things. It won't be the president. The president manages the board, but it's a collective process as to who has input into those types of decisions. And we will continue to do that going forward. I think people need to look at me as someone who has the most experience.
espnW: Your platform specifically addresses how you'll evolve women's soccer. Why?
KC: It was important to establish what I was thinking about. Pay is a part of it, but it's much broader than that. I thought it would be a failure to only look at one aspect of what we need to do to evolve the game, and women in the game. I thought it was important to lay out what I think we can achieve, and what I want people to hold me accountable for.
espnW: What are the primary challenges facing the Federation?
KC: First and foremost, we have to continue the path to making soccer the greatest game in this country. I think we've got to continue to focus on the quality of our national teams. I talk about dominance, or continued dominance, as it relates to our women's team. But across all of [our teams], whether that's beach soccer or our Paralympic teams, we've got to provide more opportunities for them to do great things in the sport. I also think we've got to win the right to host and then put on the greatest World Cup in 2026 with our friends in Mexico and Canada.
But ultimately our game comes down to our membership. Every kid comes into the game because they go to their local soccer club or community center, and they just start playing. I want to strengthen what is happening at the grassroots level. There are opportunities for us through collaboration with our member associations. This will give people more opportunity to succeed in what they're charged to do -- whether that's coaching, refereeing or players coming into the system. There's an awful lot of opportunity for us to bring more people into the game.
espnW: How has your business experience prepared you for the presidency?
KC: I know what it's like to be a part of governance, and what it's like to lead. The Federation president has a multitude of things that they are responsible for. First and foremost is leading the sport into the next generation, and I think I've got the capability and experience to do that. The second thing, though, is to advocate for our Federation in the corridors of power, whether that's our confederation, CONCACAF, FIFA or others around the world. Not only do I know people, but I have experience in dealing with those situations that would be beneficial in this role and to the USSF going forward.
espnW: What have you learned during the campaign process?
KC: I think people are excited about the idea of the U.S. becoming one of the best soccer nations in the world. I think that is aspirational but achievable. There are some definitions that need to be finalized as it relates to how we measure success. For a long time, we, as a sport, have worked hard, but not necessarily in unison.
But there are a few things I continue to focus on in all of my conversations. One is how to evolve at the grassroots. There are a lot of things that are happening now that were not happening 10 or 20 years ago, so we need to take stock of that and make some decisions as a collective that allows us to move forward to achieve that vision. That's not something that can be directed or simply stated by the elected president or even the staff. It has to be something that we achieve, develop and collaborate on as a collective.
There is a real desire and willingness to catapult our women's game. We've got the ability to define the future of the women's game. Let everyone chase us. We don't have to just stay ahead of them, but we have to do the best we can do. And I think there are opportunities for us to evolve to a significant level.
espnW: You've made nine pledges to the women's game in your candidate platform. Is that an intentional nod to Title IX?
KC: Yes! I'm a Title IX baby. I was born in 1969 in Fairfax, Virginia, and I've always had an opportunity to play. I am who I am because of athletics and sport, so it was important for me to have a nod to Title IX. This wasn't me sitting in a room writing this. It was my girl squad getting together and talking about it because ultimately whether they're in business or in sport, these are the people who have helped me get to where I am today. It was a terrific exercise to think about having a blank piece of paper and address what we would want to do. How would we evolve this game? These are things that I think are more than achievable. The pledges are aspirational and in some cases technical, but these are my [commitments] to the women of this game.
espnW: Why was the growth of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) included among your list of pledges?
KC: Because I think that the success of the league is imperative to the success of women's soccer. It's one of the vehicles that some of the other countries are using to build value in their national teams, and I think we have a shot to have the best league in the world, but we've got to put some more effort behind it. The NWSL is critical to the long-term success of our sport. If our young girls have a vision of growing up to play in the NWSL, then they can have a vision of playing with the national team as well.
This interview has been edited for length.