Hope Solo Enters Crowded Election for US Soccer Head

Hope Solo waits for the U.S. team’s friendly soccer match against Colombia in Chester, Pa., on April 10, 2016. The former team goalkeeper says she’s running for president of U.S. Soccer. Solo made the announcement Thursday night on Facebook. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) – An athlete known as much for her goalkeeping prowess as her controversies off the field, Hope Solo announced Thursday that she is running for president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The 36-year-old former U.S. Olympic and World Cup soccer player threw her gloves in the ring on Thursday night via Facebook.

Already nine candidates have made similar bids for the federation’s first contested presidential election in two decades.

Against the backdrop of an ongoing corruption scandal that has rocked soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, the U.S. Soccer Federation faced a setback of its own in October when the U.S. men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The stunning defeat that cost the men’s team its eighth consecutive World Cup was to Trinidad and Tobago, ranked 99th in the world.

Other challenges facing the federation include pay disparity between the men’s and women’s teams and the sport’s historically lackluster appeal to American viewers.

Indeed Solo was one of five players from the U.S women’s team who filed a 2016 complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about pay discrimination.

A year earlier, Solo had been in goal for the women’s team when it triumphed over Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The final match was the most-watched soccer telecast in U.S. history, with 26.7 million viewers, but players on the women’s team are paid 40 percent of what the men’s team earns.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said in a statement at the time. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships and the USMNT get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

With no U.S. team in the 2018 Men’s World Cup, however, corporate sponsors are left picking up the pieces. The New York Times reported that Fox paid more than $400 million back in 2011 for the English-language broadcast rights in the United States for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Verizon and Volkswagen signed up already as well to sponsor Fox’s halftime and postgame shows.

Soccer powerhouses from Brazil, Germany and Argentina are still in the running, but casual American viewers are less likely to watch these matchups as they would if the U.S. team was competing.

The next women’s World Cup is not until 2019.

Solo is not likely to play, however, having been suspended by the national team for poor sportsmanship at the 2016 Rio Olympics. After Sweden ousted the Americans in the quarterfinals, Solo called the Swedish team a “bunch of cowards” for their defensive style of play.

As it has for years, controversy dogged Solo from the start of the Olympic games. After the goalie took heat for making multiple posts on social media about the precautions she was taking to avoid the Zika virus in Brazil, Solo told critics that she was being responsible given her hopes to start a family with husband Jerramy Stevens.

The couple married in 2012 just a day after Stevens, a former tight end in the NFL, was arrested on charges that he assaulted Solo. In 2015, after Stevens was charged with drunken driving in California, Solo received a 30-day suspension from the league. Solo had been a passenger in the car at the time while her team was at training camp about 12 miles away in Carson.

Solo faced domestic-violence allegations of her own as well, having been arrested in her home state of Washington in 2014 after allegedly assaulting her half-sister and nephew. The charges were dropped in 2015.

Before her six-month suspension last year, Solo made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and 102 shutouts, an international record.

The election of the next president of the U.S. Soccer Federation will be held in February. One other woman has made a bid for the position as well: Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter.

Solo will also be campaigning against former national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro, Paul LaPointe, who manages the United Premier League’s Northeast Conference, Boston lawyer Steve Gans and New York lawyer Michael Winograd.

The election will be held in February.

Sunil Gulati, the 58-year-old outgoing president, had been the federation’s first to serve three terms. He was first elected unanimously in 2006.

A senior lecturer in the Columbia University economics department, Gulati was also elected in 2013 to a four-year term on the FIFA Council — a strategic body that sets the vision for soccer around the world and FIFA specifically. Gulati also is chairman of the joint U.S-Mexico-Canada bid committee, hoping FIFA will pick North America to host the 2026 World Cup.

The U.S. won the women’s World Cup in 1991, 1999 and 2015, and Gulati had been one of the figures at USSF responsible for the successful bid that brought the 1994 World Cup to the U.S.

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