Julie Foudy, One-on-One: On FIFA's failures, USWNT's strides and Billie Jean King's influence
Julie Foudy’s contribution to American soccer positions her among the most important figures in the American game. A U.S. women’s national team star in her playing days, her work off the field vaults her into a different stratosphere entirely, alongside her mentor Billie Jean King and others who have done so much in the quest for equal rights on the playing field.
Those heights are highlighted a playing legend which, during her captaincy, helped establish the women’s national team’s culture. It is cemented by the improved workplace she helped fight for, her presidency of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and her fight to strengthen Title IX.
Then there's the audience who knows Foudy, 46, primarily as an analyst and reporter for ESPN.
FourFourTwo USA connected with Foudy to discuss her early years with the U.S., how the women’s national team has evolved, the NWSL and why playing other sports alongside soccer is important for development.
FOURFOURTWO: If you take stock of your years in the women's game and how the game has evolved, what are you most satisfied with? What are you happiest to see?
JULIE FOUDY: I'm pleased to see the movement in different countries than your typical ones. I've been a bit frustrated that it's taken this long, honestly, but in seeing how the Euros played out this summer and the diversity of teams doing well there, and then the response, of course, by the Netherlands to their success. And I was just reading about Denmark and them fighting for more recognition and wages, so I feel like we’re at a tipping point for the women to really make a turn with federations supporting them.
FIFA has this responsibility as the guardians of the game. It doesn't say they're the guardians of the men's game; their own mission statement is ‘football for all,’ yet it's not football for all.
I'm hopeful that when the turnout for the Dutch this summer was so remarkable and the enthusiasm was so remarkable, it's a constant reminder that there's really untapped potential in the women's game. With a small investment, you can yield a huge return. You can't do that on the men's side, right? Because to field a World Cup-worthy team takes millions of dollars, but with the women, for a little bit of resources and community behind it, you can really [take huge steps].
Inside the U.S., I love to see the popularity of the women. I love to see how my team has come full circle. I took my kids to the games in California, for the Tournament of Nations, and now they want to go to every game. I love to see the reaction now, as a parent, to see your kids really excited: ‘I want to stay after and get everyone's autograph. We can't leave yet.’ It's really neat.
I'm super pleased with that, and I hope now the developmental side, with U.S. Soccer starting their developmental academy — I know there's still the ECNL staff that we've got — we can continue to grow as a country.
FFT: Can you see the day the U.S. fails in a World Cup? Did we already see how the world is catching up at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics?
JF: Yeah, we already saw it. That's the reality. That's the challenge for our country, being so big. We have the numbers, obviously, with the millions of kids that are playing, which sets us apart right away. And then on top of that from the support, funding, the grassroots support that we get, we should be [No. 1], just with the No. 1 support and everything.
But the reality is, are we developing players the right way? Are we choosing the right players? And I don't know the answers to that, because I'm not in the league at that level, but those are all good questions I think we'll have to address going forward if we want to stay on top.
FFT: FIFA has been vocal in its support of the women's game, but it often seems like it is more a bunch of old men paying lip service to the girls, doesn’t it?
JF: I agree. I think the challenge and the hope with Gianni Infantino is that things will be different. Maybe it's too soon to tell, but I think FIFA has this responsibility as the guardians of the game. It doesn't say they're the guardians of the men's game; their own mission statement is ‘football for all,’ yet it's not football for all, because very easily they could wield a hammer that says [federations] won't get this funding unless you support your women's programs or unless you offer equal opportunities for your girls to play. Sadly, there's a lot of countries [where] there’s no one that on a daily basis, or even a yearly basis, thinks about the women's programs.
Yet when it comes to a vote, it's voted on by 40-something male presidents of the Asian Confederation, all men, and a woman gets voted in [Bangladesh's Mahfuza Akhter] who doesn't even know who the last [Women's] World Cup winner is.
How do you change mindsets and cultural attitudes toward it? Well, money talks. The threat of losing that funding, which FIFA could do, would be a sure way to start to change that conversation.
And to have more transparency about what's happening. You saw what happened in Spain. It took them years, decades to fire [women's national team coach Ignacio Quereda], and in the process of players complaining, they all got cut.
There's just so much that needs to be done at the youth level, and it has to come from a FIFA initiative for them to actually make those changes. I'm eager for the day when we start seeing more out of them. I haven't seen it yet, but maybe it's too soon in [Infantino's presidential] term, but I would hope that would be one of his legacies that he'll leave.
FFT: For the women's game to become fully integrated with the men's, might it be a generational thing? As generations grow up with women's soccer meaning something, that that spurs change?
JF: Yeah, and just like any successful company needs a diversified group or leaders, right? And thinkers and board members. You don't have that at FIFA.
It took us 109 years just to get a female on the board [in 2013]. And, still, you see what's happened. Now they've mandated the six seats [for women] from the six different confederations [for the FIFA Council], but it's still that the women's seats are being voted on by an all-men's group.
For example, Asia. [Australia's] Moya Dodd — you can point to Moya and say, ‘look at what she’s done.’ She's got a history inside FIFA of actually stimulating reform, and she passed the 10 principles for women's football and is super good. Yet when it comes to a vote, it's voted on by 40-something male presidents of the Asian Confederation, all men, and a woman gets voted in [Bangladesh's Mahfuza Akhter] who doesn't even know who the last [Women's] World Cup winner is.
That's a problem. And I'm not saying she’s not going to be good, but to be able to put in women who are actually going to fight for and enact change is [vital]. You need people around the table that see that as well, and you need a diversified group. There's a million studies that prove why that's important to any business or entity. FIFA's just not there.