Originally Published: June 7, 2018 3:45 p.m.
LONDON — A World Cup winner and Olympic champion with the United States, Hope Solo now wants her country to lose one of its biggest soccer contests: FIFA’s vote on the 2026 World Cup host.
“I can’t say it should be awarded to Morocco,” Solo told The Associated Press. “But I don’t think it should go to the United States, and that’s hard to say.”
Concerns about the financial dealings of the United States Soccer Federation and the closed men’s league system led Solo to that conclusion.
By choosing to actively campaign against the U.S.-led North America bid, Solo risks alienating herself further from the soccer community in her homeland.
The bid leadership was exasperated when informed Solo was undermining their efforts heading into Wednesday’s vote, dismissing her criticism of the governance of soccer but declining to go on the record in detail.
This is not an isolated eruption against U.S. Soccer. Solo has reason to be disgruntled. After 202 international appearances — a record for an American goalkeeper — Solo was fired over an outburst at the 2016 Olympics against the opposition and a series of off-the-field controversies.
In an attempt to take control of the organization that ostracized her, Solo ran for the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) presidency in February. There was a resounding verdict: Solo garnered only 1.4 percent of the vote to finish last out of five candidates.
Solo still wants to be heard to try to secure equal pay and equal treatment for the U.S. women’s team, and force Major League Soccer to open up the closed competition. Her gripes provide a counterpoint to the loyal championing of the American World Cup bid by David Beckham in a video released by MLS, where the former England captain is launching a team in Miami. That is only possible because Beckham secured a cut-price deal for an expansion franchise as part of his contract to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“That is not helping the sport in America,” Solo said. “I want to see promotion-relegation in the NASL and the MLS. Right now it’s true, you have rich ownership groups owning MLS teams and they’re only getting richer and they’re alienating everybody else.
“A new ownership group can’t just come in and purchase a team even though they have the financial security, even though they have the commitment. It’s controlled by those single individuals at Soccer United Marketing, MLS in particular, (Commissioner) Don Garber.”
FIFA’s statutes enshrine the principle of a system of promotion and relegation in domestic competitions to ensure participation “shall depend principally on sporting merit.” The regulations then say that qualification can be subject to other criteria including “financial considerations.”
MLS stridently defended itself against Solo’s criticism, saying team owners have invested more than $3 billion in stadium and training facilities to grow the sport because it’s a closed league.
“The structure that we have has given owners certainty to make that type of investment,” MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott told the AP. “Had we had a system of promotion and relegation it would not have been possible to generate that level of investment from owners, local communities or private banks that help to fund some of these facilities.”
Solo also questioned Garber’s role overseeing MLS and Soccer United Marketing, which is the exclusive marketing partner of U.S. Soccer, while also sitting on the USSF board.
“There are too many conflicts of interest that need to be addressed immediately,” Solo said.
Garber represents MLS on the U.S. Soccer board but recuses himself from discussions about the “sanctioning of other professional leagues in the U.S.,” Abbott responded on behalf of the commissioner.
Turning on the USSF, Solo said the organization lacks integrity and highlights the absence of an independent ethics committee, which FIFA has.
She also filed a claim with the U.S. Olympic Committee, saying the USSF violates a law that offers protections for athletes, alleging improper conditions for soccer players.
“If you’re an Olympic sport, your national governing body, every NGB has an obligation to give resources and funds to all of its members, not just professional and amateur players or Paralympic team women’s teams or youth teams,” Solo said. “But what U.S. Soccer does is they give the money directly to the pro teams. So it’s in violation of the Ted Stevens Act and I have a hearing in a couple weeks in front of the Olympic Committee.
“I also met with Congress members recently. I went to Capitol Hill, met with Republicans and Democrats, and there’s a lot of interest to make sure that U.S. Soccer is an organization that actually is run transparently, has integrity and is an open and honest national governing body.”
Up to 207 soccer federations will vote next Wednesday in Moscow on whether North America or Morocco should host the 2026 World Cup, or the bidding should be reopened by choosing “none of the above.” In FIFA’s inspections report, North America’s bid, which includes Canada and Mexico as minority partners, scored 402 out of 500, while Morocco was marked 275 in part due to a lack of infrastructure.
“Hopefully FIFA can stand up and step in and say, ‘If we’re going to reward you, let’s look at everything and point out where you can fix certain things,’” Solo said.
Her call for greater transparency from the USSF came after speaking at the London launch conference for the Foundation for Sports Integrity, which has one named official who would not disclose the source of funding for the group or who paid to hire lavish facilities at a Four Seasons hotel.
“I want to put my faith and trust in people,” Solo said. “Who’s funding it? That’s no different from the way a lot of organizations are run.”