Kathy Carter Q&A: U.S. Soccer presidential candidate talks vision, conflicts of interest, more

Soccer United Marketing’s Kathy Carter is running for U.S. Soccer president.
Soccer United Marketing’s Kathy Carter is running for U.S. Soccer president.

Kathy Carter has spent more than four decades in the sport of soccer. She’s played it. She’s organized it. She’s promoted it. She’s lived it. She was a member of the 1994 World Cup organizing committee, a founding member of MLS, and most recently the president of Soccer United Marketing (SUM). Now she’s all in on her biggest undertaking yet.

Carter announced her intention to run for U.S. Soccer president last week. She has taken a leave of absence from her position at SUM, and will resign if she wins the Feb. 10 election. She confirmed to Yahoo Sports on Tuesday that she has the three nominations required to become an official candidate.

She also answered various questions about her candidacy. Some of those questions and answers are below. Others, as well as profiles of and Q&As with other candidates, will be published in the coming weeks. Additionally, Carter’s bio and her open letter to the American soccer community can be found on her website. Without further ado …

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Yahoo Sports: So what has the past week been like?

Kathy Carter: I was kind of curious as I got into the race whether I would find it exhausting. And actually, it’s been quite the opposite. It’s been absolutely exhilarating. Because I’m speaking to people who are as passionate as I am about this game. You can’t teach people to have passion. It’s been unbelievable, the level of enthusiasm, and more so just commitment to the sport. It’s easy to talk to people who are in that vein. And it’s really been fun.

Y: You’ve said there are systemic issues in American soccer. What are some of those issues?

KC: We need a cultural shift in the way we operate with all our constituents. There’s a real belief that the federation has been focused on the elite development, and that there hasn’t been as much focus on the base. There’s gotta be a blend between actually making sure we’re creating athletes that can continue their career professionally or represent our country, but we also need to make sure that we’re bringing more kids into the base, and maintaining their participation in the sport of soccer. That’s become clear in the discussions [with constituents].

The other part of this is that we need to continue to create a culture of collaboration. People are thirsting to have a voice, they want to be a part of this evolution. We need to create more ways for them to engage on the solutions, as opposed to just being told what those solutions are.

Y: You’ve denied reports that you were urged to run by [MLS commissioner] Don Garber and [current USSF president] Sunil Gulati, but there’s still a sense that you represent the status quo. Are you comfortable with that? Or is that something you’d shy away from?

KC: I’ve actually never sat on the U.S. Soccer board, so I can’t say that I’ve been in the middle of decisions. What I can say is – somebody said it to me best: You’ve got the most unique blend of experience coupled with the energy for change. That’s sort of the way I tend to look at my candidacy. I’ve always been somebody who thinks change is a good thing.

I don’t believe that I’m a part of status quo. I think I’m much more focused on how we evolve and grow this game.

Y: One of the key points you made in your open letter is that you don’t want to be the CEO, you want the CEO to be the CEO. Do you think that, over the past decade, Sunil Gulati got away from that a bit? Do you think that was one of his faults?

KC: I don’t know that it’s fair to be a Monday morning quarterback. … It’s not for me to say. Quite frankly, I think the federation has done a lot of good things. And I think our sport is where it is today part and parcel to the work that many before me have put in. But I think there’s a way for us to do a lot more.

Y: I’m sure you’re aware of the criticism that there’s a conflict of interest in the relationship between the federation, SUM and MLS. Obviously the federation wants MLS to thrive, and vice versa. But do you think there is not just an overlapping of interests, but a conflict of interest? Do you think that the partnership between the organizations is structured so that U.S. Soccer isn’t always acting in the best interest of soccer in America?

KC: Let me try to answer that in a couple of different ways. I believe that the federation business continues to evolve, and that they have, historically, made a decision that having professionals that are able to manage the growth of their economic potential is better than trying to create an infrastructure internally. That it’s better served by having outside parties that do that.

What I would say is, the premise of Soccer United Marketing is that you have full-time and significant resources that are put at the disposal of the U.S. Soccer Federation, whose sole objective is to grow the game of soccer in the United States. The question of conflict to me is slightly misaligned, because ultimately the board made the decision and voted on [it], at the request of the CEO, Dan Flynn.

So I don’t know, I haven’t been in that as a board representative, obviously I was on the outside, not on the inside. That being said, if elected president, I would make sure that there was more transparency around the decision, if that’s ultimately what the membership is looking for. It’s hard for me to say where there are questions, because I obviously wasn’t a part of that conversation. I believe that if there are questions, we’ve gotta be able to answer those. But ultimately, the federation has seen great success as a result of its partnership with SUM.

Y: So do you think, because of the relationship [between USSF and SUM], that rather than essentially answering to the entire soccer community, the federation feels that it has to answer to MLS, and sometimes those interests aren’t aligned? Do you think that’s a fair criticism?

KC: No, I don’t.

Y: Would you look to introduce more transparency to that relationship between SUM and USSF?

KC: Yeah, of course. I think we would clearly be looking to continue to make it so that people understand. But the last thing that people are questioning is the health of the business of the U.S. Soccer Federation, which actually sits today in an enviable position.

Y: You’ve said you want to make the game more inclusive – available to people, regardless of socioeconomic status. How do you do that?

KC: It starts with infrastructure in Chicago [at USSF headquarters] that can actually reach out and understand how we bring those people into the fold – whether it is an economic issue, or is it because we don’t have enough coaches that are able to communicate with young players, or because parents are working so much that they may not be able to get kids out to the field for practice. There’s a lot of work we’ve got to do to diagnose the problem. In the inner-city, there are challenges for finding fields to play on. What do we do to provide fields, or futsal courts?

The U.S. Soccer Foundation is doing some really interesting programs to put more facilities into the inner-cities, and, further, program them so kids actually have a place to go after school. So there are a lot of ways to attack the problem. What I would say, though, is we have to be open, that we don’t have to control everything, but rather empower a lot of people that are working really hard in the markets, and truly in the grassroots, to do more of what they’re doing so well already.

Y: Do you believe the women’s national team should be getting equal or equitable pay to the men? And if so, what would your definition of equal or equitable pay be?

KC: I think it’s a broader issue than what our athletes make. I am a strong advocate of equal pay, for obvious reasons. What I would say is that, when it comes to our national teams, those teams themselves collectively bargain. So what it is that’s most important to them must be determined by those negotiations. What is absolutely clear to me, though, is there should be zero differentiation between the quality of how we treat our teams. Whether that is playing surfaces, whether that is where they stay in hotels, or how they fly. That, to me, is table stakes, that has to be the same. When it comes to what the players themselves want to see in their individual deals, we must treat all of our athletes with respect.

And actually, as I’ve spoken with the U.S. women’s national team members, I think there’s a big concern that the rest of the world is catching up with our women’s development. And that the issues that we have might be broader than equitable pay, it might be how much we’re focused on women’s and girls’ development, which I think we’ve really gotta pay much closer attention to. So I’d like to hear from the athletes even more so than I have thus far to understand what really is it that we should be doing to advance our game, and continue to give them more opportunity in the future.

Of course I’m for equal pay. That’s, like I said, just a part of my DNA. It’s a little bit different to talk about how they negotiate. But most importantly, I’m a little bit worried that the rest of the world is catching up with us in the women’s game from a development standpoint.

More on Carter’s vision for U.S. Soccer can be found at her website. More on U.S. Soccer’s presidential election can be found at FC Yahoo over the coming weeks.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.