Cindy Parlow Cone’s targets for U.S. Soccer transcend equal pay

There are a number of issues that make Cindy Parlow Cone, the president of U.S. Soccer, stand out among the many sport’s prime executives.

She’s a former World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist who made 158 worldwide appearances. She was inducted within the Nationwide Soccer Corridor of Fame and coached the Portland Thorns to a league title within the NWSL’s inaugural season. She’s a volunteer,operating one of many world’s largest, richest and most complicated soccer federations at no cost.

Then there’s her gender: Of the 211 nationwide federations that belong to FIFA, solely 9 have feminine presidents. But misplaced amongst all these important and uncommon accomplishments is the truth that Cone’s brief reign has arguably been among the many most impactful of any U.S. Soccer president.

“When you put a woman at the table,” stated Julie Foudy, a former teammate, “they get s— done.”

Perhaps. However Cone, the one lady president in U.S. Soccer’s 109-year historical past, would favor to assume her abilities and life experiences have extra to do along with her success than her gender or taking part in profession.

“Is it because I’m a woman? Is it because I’m a former player? Is it because of my leadership style?” Cone requested after showing as one of many keynote audio system at November’s ESPN W convention in Ojai. “I don’t know. I am who I am. And I don’t try to be any other way.

“For me, one of the most important things is stay true to myself and stay true to who I am as a person so that I can sleep well at night.”

She ought to sleep like a child contemplating what she has achieved since changing into federation president in 2020, the day earlier than President Trump declared COVID-19 a federal emergency.

Cone — one of many youngest federation presidents on the planet at 44 — led U.S. Soccer into and out of the unprecedented coronavirus disaster and oversaw a males’s nationwide staff program that received a Gold Cup, the primary CONCACAF Nations League, returned to the World Cup after an eight-year absence and certified for the Olympics for the primary time since 2008. The ladies’s staff, ranked No. 1 on the planet, earned bronze on the Tokyo Video games and received the CONCACAF W Championship, qualifying for subsequent summer time’s Girls’s World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics. Cone additionally commissioned the groundbreaking Yates Report, which documented systematic abuse in girls’s soccer within the U.S. from the youth degree via the NWSL, abuse earlier leaders knew about however did little to appropriate.

Her crowning accomplishment, nonetheless, was negotiating historic collective-bargaining agreements with each nationwide groups that made the U.S. the primary nation to realize gender equality, a purpose that U.S. Soccer’s previous two presidents pursued however by no means achieved.

Cindy Parlow Cone, heart, stands between U.S. girls’s nationwide staff gamers Becky Sauerbrunn, left, and Alex Morgan after asserting the signing of latest collective bargaining agreements for U.S. gamers in September.

(Julio Cortez / Related Press)

“She’s a former athlete, she cares about the sport deeply, she cares about national teams deeply and she cares about environments deeply. And with that she makes choices. Simple as that,” Earnie Stewart, a three-time World Cup participant and now U.S. Soccer’s sporting director, stated when requested what makes Cone efficient. “She’s straightforward. When she makes a decision, she stands by it and she goes forward.”

She additionally trusts these like Stewart who work below her.

“If you don’t, why hire people?” she requested. “You’re not going to empower them to do the work. I’m a team player. No one wants to be micromanaged.”

Requested whether or not her gender influenced Cone’s strategy, Stewart was as simple as his boss.

“I’m a male, so I can’t totally answer that question,” he stated. “I certainly hope not. I believe that the world has evolved.”

There’s little doubt that the ladies who’ve earned a seat on the desk in what has historically been a male-dominated sport are making a distinction. Shortly after former Norwegian worldwide participant Lise Klaveness grew to become the primary lady to go that nation’s soccer federation, she negotiated a truce that returned Ada Hegerberg, a former Ballon d’Or winner and onetime teammate of Klaveness, to the nationwide staff following a five-year boycott. Klaveness has additionally been among the many most outspoken critics of FIFA’s indifference towards the remedy of migrant staff in Qatar, website of the just-concluded World Cup.

“I’m not surprised at all by how well she’s doing.”

— Julie Foudy, U.S. girls’s soccer legend

Cone was the federation’s vice chairman when Carlos Cordeiro resigned as chief govt, taking accountability for demeaning language included in a authorized transient issued by federation attorneys in a gender fairness lawsuit introduced towards U.S. Soccer by members of the ladies’s nationwide staff. That gave Cone the reins; she was then elected to her personal four-year time period in March of this 12 months, defeating Cordeiro on the primary poll.

The job doesn’t get any simpler over time. Cone, who’s answerable for greater than a dozen nationwide groups and a workers of 250, should now oversee preparations for the biggest, most complicated World Cup in historical past. The 2026 match will embody a document 48 groups taking part in within the U.S., Canada and Mexico, however 60 of the 80 matches can be staged within the U.S., unfold throughout 11 cities and 4 time zones.

Foudy, who received a World Cup and three Olympic medals alongside Cone, is amongst these assured she will deal with it.

“I’m not surprised at all by how well she’s doing,” she stated. “There’s no bull—. It’s very transparent. Her moral compass is fantastic. She’s willing to be vulnerable, she’s willing to admit what she’s doesn’t know. Yet she’s really good at making decisions when she does know or asking for help when she needs it.

“All those things make great leaders. She checks all the boxes.”

U.S. soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone speaks after a match between the U.S. women's national team and Nigeria.

U.S. soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone speaks after a match between the U.S. girls’s nationwide staff and Nigeria in September.

(Julio Cortez / Related Press)

But the gender query stays. As a result of the breakthrough settlement on pay fairness and the beautiful revelations contained within the Yates Report largely have been seen as benefiting the ladies’s sport, Cone’s administration has been seen in some circles as furthering an agenda she held as an activist participant and later as an NWSL coach who pushed again towards sexual harassment.

That criticism is each unjust and incorrect. Unequal pay and sexual harassment had been by no means a male-female downside, they’ve all the time been a soccer downside. Cone is fast to credit score the lads’s staff with serving to remedy it.

“It’s been over two decades that I’ve been involved in the equal-pay fight,” stated Cone, who, after successful the 1999 Girls’s World Cup, joined Foudy, Mia Hamm and a handful of others in refusing to play till they acquired higher compensation and dealing situations. “To make the progress that we’ve made, it took a lot of things to come together. I give huge credit to the men’s national and their [union] to get on board with this and to really be a part of the solution.”

Nonetheless, it was Cone who compelled the problem. With the collective bargaining agreements for each the lads’s and ladies’s groups being negotiated on the identical time final spring, she introduced either side to the desk and refused to endorse any deal with out an settlement on FIFA prize cash. The consequence was historic: each groups would place their winnings in a single pot and break up the cash equally.

“I was kind of on the outside, frustrated with different things, even angry with certain things. And I realized that unless I was willing to jump in and work, I couldn’t keep complaining or keep getting frustrated.”

— Cindy Parlow Cone, on why she pursued the U.S. Soccer presidency

With the lads reaching the ultimate 16 of the Qatar World Cup, that meant the groups break up the $11.7 million in prize cash evenly. The $5.85 million the ladies bought practically matched the $6 million in mixed earnings for successful the final two Girls’s World Cups.

Cone has been deeply invested within the investigations in misconduct within the NWSL, each the Yates probe, commissioned by U.S. Soccer, and the not too long ago launched report from the league and its gamers’ associations. The stories had been damning each in what they uncovered and within the element during which it was described. Cone is much less within the issues then she is within the options.

“What I was most looking forward to are the recommendations,” stated Cone, who has already applied a lot of these contained within the Yates Report. “As hard as it is to read both reports, for me, my guiding light is ‘OK, now we have pathway out and [for] how we start to change it and make sure that our game is as safe as possible.’ And hopefully, that this never happens again.

“I’m glad the report’s out now so we can really focus on making the systemic changes that we need to make.”

So whereas nothing Cone has accomplished was completed as a result of she’s a lady she does carry a further consciousness to the job of what it feels wish to be marginalized, ignored or dismissed. The 2026 World Cup isn’t the primary in North America since 1994, she corrects; there have been three Girls’s World Cups performed right here since then. Pushing grassroots soccer isn’t about getting boys to play the sport, she emphasizes, it’s about getting boys and ladies to play the sport.

Language and context matter.

“Why women are successful when they’re given these leadership positions is that they bring empathy and instincts and an understanding and a willingness,” stated Foudy, a former president of the Girls’s Sports activities Basis. “The skill set that women bring to the table is huge and enormous.”

Cindy Parlow Cone, second from right, poses with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, right, and U.S. women's soccer players.

Cindy Parlow Cone, second from proper, poses with Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi, proper, and U.S. girls’s soccer gamers (from left) Briana Scurry, Margaret ‘Midge’ Purce, Kelley O’Hara and Julie Foudy whereas on the White Home to rejoice Equal Pay Day on March 15.

(Patrick Semansky / Related Press)

The problem Cone faces now’s to not solely unite and restore U.S. Soccer on the nationwide staff {and professional} ranges, however on the grassroots as properly. And that’s an enormous raise. Greater than 12.6 million Individuals performed outside soccer at the least as soon as in 2021, in keeping with Statista. That’s greater than the registered variety of gamers in Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands mixed.

The way forward for the sport within the U.S. is about planting seeds, which is why Cone, along with being president of U.S. Soccer, can also be a director for a youth soccer membership in North Carolina, the place her duties embody ordering uniforms for all of the gamers as a result of any person has to organize them.

That want to roll up her sleeves and do what must be accomplished is what led her to the best job within the sport within the U.S., however it hasn’t stopped her from pitching in at lowest ranges as properly.

“I truly, deeply care about the sport, from the grassroots level all the way up,” Cone stated. “I was kind of on the outside, frustrated with different things, even angry with certain things. And I realized that unless I was willing to jump in and work, I couldn’t keep complaining or keep getting frustrated.

“I was never looking to become vice-president or even president of U.S. Soccer. I think it all kind of happened by accident. But now that I’m here I’m seeing that I’m able to make positive change.”