I have today signed S. 2727, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.
The President’s Commission on Olympic Sports reported that the frequent disputes between some of our amateur sports organizations have hindered the grassroots development of amateur sports as well as the performance of United States athletes in international and Olympic competition. This legislation, based on the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports, establishes procedures and guidelines to resolve disputes without placing the Federal Government in control of amateur sports. The act designates the United States Olympic Committee as the coordinating body for amateur sports, restructures the Olympic Committee and many of its constituent organizations, and gives the Olympic Committee a mandate to resolve disputes through arbitration.
I hope that this legislation will strengthen United States participation in international amateur sports competition and broaden opportunities for all Americans to enjoy amateur sports.
– James Earl Carter, 39th President of the United States, November 8, 1978
The above law is what makes US Soccer possible at all. To the purpose of this article, where US Soccer derives its legitimacy is from you, the American people, and from ostensibly good law crafted by your representatives. You are in charge, no matter how US Soccer organizes its bylaws to exclude your specific voice.
Amended in 1998, the Amateur Sports Act was coded into law at 36 U.S. Code, Subtitle II, under the autocratic-sounding designation of “Patriotic and National Organizations.”
At the time, many saw the Act as a tool to deliver powerful reforms for amateur athletics, giving, as Ken Denlinger wrote at the time, “…clear and useful reforms, and also the promise of helping the casual jogger as well as the Olympian marathoner…” SPecifically, Denlinger lauded the outcome that would, in his opinion, deliver “…more than enough congressional checks…” on the abuse of power and the undemocratic deployment of American tax dollars – $16 million at the time of the signing of the Act – in the development and safeguarding of a proper sport ethic in America.
I mention above the 1998 amendment of the Sport Act because it only took two decades for us to abandon the notion that we should use our resources to uplift sport among everyday people and instead deployed what Jay Coakley calls “a deviant overconformity to the sport ethic” in simply handing over this framework to professional sport.
Just in time for the emergence, post 1994 World Cup, of US Soccer, a federation which saw its rise in the bastardized light of the Havelange-Blatter-Blazer-Warner era, one of nonfeasance when it came to amateur/everyday sport development, and criminal malfeasance when it came to professional takes on soccer and sport.
Tracking the revision of US Soccer bylaws – studying an answer to the questions “When did US Soccer change its rules, what rules did it change, and why? – reveals that rules were changed always to constrict voting power, not to democratize it; to restrict financial transparency, not to make the federation more open in real-time; to increasingly locate federation resources exclusively among cultivated professional males, not to deploy those resources across the mosaic of diversity that its the American soccer landscape. Five days from now, the totality of that framework will remain in place, likely regardless of who is (s)elected as the next US Soccer President.
In the next five days, its important for everyday American citizens who happen to give a damn about the sport of soccer to recognize their power. It is not – and never has been – located in the narrow, navel-gazing self-interests of the leaders of the Youth, Adult, Athletes and Professional Councils. These groups number no more than one hundred people. FIFA is told by US Soccer that we have 4,186,778 registered players; that doesn’t count the relatives, coaches and other enthusiasts in the game.
Which is where the Sports Act comes in. That is our power to remake, re-shape and re-tool soccer – and sport – into the 21st Century catalyst for cultural growth and democratic expression it has to be for it, and for our love for it, to survive.
Understand its original intent. Realize how far we’ve strayed from that intent.
Challenge your representatives on the Act, its evolution, and what you’d like to see going forward. Make manifest the citizen discussion that’s required for change in the USA.
Take note of the (s)election, but don’t lose hope in its outcome. As that system generates a choice that is no choice, we can come into the fullness of our own citizen power and begin to demand the sport we’ll need going forward.
We have to, if soccer is to survive in any form we can recognize.