We recently learned that the U.S. men’s soccer team won’t be traveling to the Tokyo Olympics this summer, and that’s not because of COVID-19. The Americans did not qualify.
You also didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics. And the 2012 Olympics. Oh, and the 2004 Olympics (and the 1976, 1968, 1964, 1960 Olympics). That means the men’s team has not qualified for the last three Olympics and four of the last five. (We’re not even going to mention the 2018 World Cup, another touch.)
American hopes for an Olympic berth this summer officially ended last weekend when the US lost to Honduras – Honduras ?! – 2-1 at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico. The United States was defeated by a country the size of Ohio. Ivory Coast, Egypt and South Korea will also be among the 16 countries that will send teams to the Olympics.
“In our locker room, the boys are like a tragedy – a tragedy,” said US coach Jason Kreis (former Real Salt Lake coach).
Well that’s a stretch. Let’s just call it embarrassing. Or confusing.
It is tempting to attribute this poor performance to the availability of so many other sports in the US that tend to drain talent. But that doesn’t prevent the US from making a name for itself in other sports. Americans win the medal count at every Summer Olympics, and it’s not even close.
Americans make great teams in softball, baseball, water polo, basketball, ice hockey, volleyball – pretty much anything. Athletics, for example, loses thousands of athletes to soccer and women’s soccer, but still wins the Olympic medal race – 32 medals at the 2016 Rio Games, well ahead of second-placed Kenya at 13.
The US is still great in almost all sports – but not in men’s football. Americans have been encouraged to join the sport because the rest of the world loves it. It is almost politically wrong not to like football, and Americans dutifully embraced it.
There are more than 3 million players in American youth football leagues. The club system has monopolized young athletes and convinced hundreds of thousands to play sports all year round, at high cost and to the exclusion of other activities. However, all of this interest does not result in a strong men’s national team.
The US women’s team is an entirely different matter. The women’s team was as good as the men’s team was bad – four gold medals and one silver medal in the last six Olympics, as well as the 2015 and 2019 World Championships.
This all goes back to the creation of Title IX in the 1970s, which began the rise of women’s sports and the decline of many men’s sports. There are 205 college men’s soccer teams and 333 college women’s teams. The NCAA’s scholarship limit for soccer is 14 for women and nine for men.
(Side note: Olympic rules restrict the men’s team to players under the age of 24. The women’s team is open to all age groups.)
There’s another reason American women thrive: They don’t face the same level of competition as the men’s team. America has fully embraced women’s sports and athletes. other countries not so much.
In a 2015 article titled “Football Is Still Out of reach for Half of the Women in the World,” Time Magazine noted that millions of women in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia are having “legal, cultural and face religious obstacles “Keep them away from soccer fields.
“Even in countries where there are no formal restrictions,” the magazine continued, “women are often exposed to death threats, allegations of unfeminine behavior, and heckling and phone calls from marginalized strangers.” In some countries women are even banned from entering football stadiums just to watch. … Clerics in Saudi Arabia have said that women’s sport is “the devil’s steps” towards immortality.
“Egyptian women report that family members often keep girls off the field and tell them that football is haram, which is forbidden in Islam,” the articles continued. “Afghan players have received threatening text messages. Indian women were recently evicted from the field after a Muslim clergyman issued a fatwa on men who watched girls play in skirts. ”
Even in football-mad Brazil, only about 1% of football players are women. As the Wall Street Journal reports, until 1979 national law prevented women from playing football because it was “incompatible with feminine nature.”
Not only do American women not face such challenges, they are rewarded, encouraged, and supported. Even in a country where the game has been slow to adopt, they have success and advantages that their peers don’t.
The Americans were late for the game, but the US women have caught and outperformed international rivals while the men facing a greater challenge are still trying to catch up.