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The U.S. Soccer presidential election has a gender problem

A lot of candidates, but a certain sameness pervades.

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Colombia at USA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

U.S. Soccer is in the midst of an unprecedented moment in its history, with there appearing to be an actual presidential race (although indications are that the longtime incumbent, Sunil Gulati, will also run for one more term).

Here are the candidates, so far:

  • Carlos Cordeiro
  • Steve Gans
  • Paul Lapointe
  • Michael Winograd
  • Eric Wynalda
  • Paul Caligiuri
  • Kyle Martino

Again, Gulati is likely to also run, but he has not formally announced it. And some of these guys may not get the requisite nominations to actually enter the race, when all is said and done.

On that note, there’s a key word in that last sentence: guys.

It’s an obvious point, but let me be obvious. Only men appear to be running in the USSF presidential race.

I certainly don’t think there’s a campaign to dissuade women from entering the fray. And there’s a level of choice involved, and this group of people who want to run are so far all men. But I would argue there why this is a problem and why there is at least some structural reason for it.

When I posed this question about there being no women running for USSF president on Twitter last week, I got a few responses that one big reason was because the job is unpaid.

This is an issue with two sides to it, of course. On one hand, having the job unpaid would appear to keep people from trying to hang onto it just to keep a paycheck. And the optics of enacting the change to make the position a paid one will make the president who is in office at that particular time look kind of greedy, even if maybe that is a bit uncharitable in context.

But consider the flipside. If the job being unpaid is a real deterrent to all but those who are rich or have a lucrative job already, then the pool of applicants shrinks substantially, perhaps all the way to the detriment of the pool itself.

Why would women be reluctant to run for a high-profile leadership job that pays no money? To each her own, of course, but there are a few likely threads running through those who might be interested but not under the current circumstances:

  • Women who are in or seek leadership roles tend to get a lot of abuse, especially online, much of it personal and not pertaining to the job whatsoever. Is it worth it to stick your neck out only to have strangers beat you down?
  • There’s a long history of women doing free labor and getting no credit for it. From women who offered support services during past wars, often for little to no money and almost always no credit, to women involved in social movements in the 20th century tasked with doing secretarial work behind the scenes by virtue of their gender, there is a stigma in the minds of many women about being asked to perform a job where they won’t be paid properly for their considerable labor. In that context, why would any but those truly independently wealthy want to jump into the ring?
  • There’s also the familial considerations. It may sound retrograde to bring this point up, but for many (albeit not all) women, they may have a career (to take just one example, a playing career) in their 20s and delay starting a family until they are older. While several ex-U.S. Men’s National Team players have announced they want to run for president, no ex-U.S. Women’s National Team players have done the same as of today. I would guess that in at least some cases, they want to spend time with their families ahead of, again, running for a high-profile job where they will certainly face abuse and receive no money if elected.

So why is it a problem at all if there are no women running for U.S. Soccer president? Shouldn’t we seek the most interested and qualified candidates, regardless of their identity?

Of course, there’s no reason to simply want a woman there for the sake of being there. At the end of the day, I think we all want the most qualified and forward-thinking candidate to win the election, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, class, occupation, etc.

But in a country where girls’ and women’s soccer is so prominent, where the U.S. is in many respects the pioneer and most successful country in the world regarding soccer for women and girls, having no woman involved in the race seems bizarre. Add to that the human nature element here — many people are comfortable in their own skin, which is to say, they often will not seek outside perspectives or think about populations different from themselves without being forced to. Some of the candidates have spoken at length about women’s soccer and some have said practically nothing about it — for being so important to U.S. Soccer overall, the president needs to be someone who is giving equal attention to the women’s and men’s sides of the sport.

What makes all of this even more concerning is this post from Anthony DiCicco on Monday. In it, he goes through the various groups that actually vote for U.S. Soccer president, and finds there is a massive imbalance between male and female voters (specifically, there are way more male voters). Given that the population is roughly 50-50 male and female, and again, women’s soccer is not a new fad, or something the U.S. needs to catch up about, we are in many respects the leading country in the world in this field, it does not make sense that women are not eligible to vote for USSF president at anything apparently approaching an equitable rate. And that likely plays a role in the absence of women running for U.S. Soccer president, too.

And while I’ve focused on gender here, it must be said that we also need to think about representation in USSF in terms of race, too. While Gulati is a person of color, most of the challengers in the presidential race are white, and that also is a major problem in terms of thinking about the depth of U.S. Soccer. It’s one thing to play lip service to a mythical Latino superstar hiding in plain sight in the United States who will fall between the cracks, but if the people in charge remain in a default white space, the chance we’ll find a way to find those diamonds in the rough, most of which will be people of color, will remain small, to say nothing of other systemic issues in American soccer related to race.

We are in an important moment, perhaps, in American soccer history. There is a genuine presidential race, apparently, for the first time ever. We’ll see if one of these challengers will overtake Gulati and make positive changes in the years to come. But while we’re talking about change of American soccer overall, I think we’re missing a huge gap that needs to be rectified in many ways for U.S. Soccer so that we see a field of candidates who better represent soccer in the United States in all of its multitudes.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!