As someone who’s been in four World Cups, I know that you want to have razor-sharp focus on the only task that matters: the game. The Women’s World Cup is days away, and the FIFA corruption allegations are a huge distraction. This upsets me. The recent negative coverage has put a black cloud over soccer at a time when we should be focused on celebrating the hard work and dedication of all World Cup players.
But the black cloud could have a silver lining: Now that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has brought these allegations, I hope as a result FIFA will be held to a higher standard.
We’ve seen how FIFA allegedly spends its money through shady deals and bribes. Here’s an idea for how the organization can reinvent itself in a positive way: For starters, it should do more to advance women’s and youth soccer in the world. I’d love to see part of FIFA’s billions going toward a program in which players on national teams reach out within their native countries to teach girls and boys about soccer.
I’m the national spokesperson for America SCORES, which is an afterschool program in U.S. cities that teaches kids about teamwork and how to play the sport. If you had something like that on a global scale, sanctioned and sponsored by FIFA, there’s an incredible opportunity to have a positive impact in young girls’ and boys’ lives. Know what that might reap? Inspired kids, and potential future professional stars.
That’s what I love about soccer: It’s the world’s game. There are so many footballers playing at the highest level now. And there are teams in this World Cup from countries where women’s soccer is growing, such as Thailand, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time this year, and Japan, which was the first Asian team to win the tournament in 2011. That provides an incredible opportunity to inspire more young women to experience the sport.
I want people to tune in to this Women’s World Cup and marvel at the skill and tenacity of the players. That’s what it’s really all about. Some of the players on the U.S. team were 10 years old when the U.S. won in 1999, and now they are going after the Cup. If that doesn’t get you going as an American sports fan, I don’t know what will. So let this World Cup, Women’s and Men’s, be about the beautiful game on the pitch—not about FIFA executives.