On Thursday, FIFA announced the 16 North American cities (two in Canada, three in Mexico, and 13 in the United States) that will host the North American World Cup in 2026. Hilariously, our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., was not selected as a host site because Dan Snyder’s terrible stadium frequently dumps water on unsuspecting patrons and is generally an awful place to take in a sporting event.
This announcement, combined with the rebuff of D.C., reinvigorated my most radical sporting suggestion. We need a federal Department of Sport to manage national team athletics in this country.
Dozens of countries, ranging in size from Brunei to China, have a Ministry of Sport or Department of Sport equivalent. Many nations combine their federal agency with a Ministry of Youth or Culture, allowing them to also spread their cultural pastimes while ensuring that their children are staying fit.
Every two years, when it comes time for the Olympics, competing nations announce massive payouts, as high as $680,000 in Hong Kong, awarded to any medal-winning athletes by their Ministry of Sport. In South Korea, the government goes as far as exempting medal winners at major sporting events like the Olympics and the Asia Cup from the country’s 18 months of mandatory military service — something not even offered to BTS, the global K-pop phenomenon.
In the United States, gold medalists receive $37,500 from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Silver medal winners collect $22,500 and bronze medal winners win $15,000. This is relatively on par with other bonuses in the Americas. The key difference is that American athletes receive relatively little outside of the potential medal stipend. For example, USA Track and Field (USATF), the federation that governs American track and field athletes, offers an annual stipend ranging from $10,000 to just $2,000 depending on the athlete’s tier. The organization will also reimburse up to $2,000 in medical expenses.
Subscribe and I will name you Secretary of Sport when I am elected President.
Pause for a moment to think about Tom Brady or Aaron Judge relying on a $10,000 stipend and $2,000 medical reimbursement to play their sport at the highest level. Olympians, who dedicate their entire lives to bringing glory to their home country, often have to work service jobs around their training. In fact, Home Depot used to run ads bragging about how many Olympians they employed. This is entirely unacceptable.
My theoretical Department of Sport (DOS) would be a federal cabinet-level agency like the Department of Transportation or the Department of Defense. I would nominate Basketball Hall of Famer, Olympic Gold Medalist, and Naval Lieutenant David Robinson as the first Secretary of Sport to lead the department. The DOS would pay all Olympic-level athletes a government salary, allowing them to focus on their careers in athletics. The salary would make up the difference in whatever they did not earn from endorsements and professional competition, as for every sport like skiing with a robust and profitable professional tour there is a sport like artistic (synchronized) swimming. Shaun White might not have needed a salary in addition to his prize purses and endorsements, but Anita Alvarez from USA Artistic Swimming might have appreciated one.
As federal employees, our nation’s premier athletes would have access to collective bargaining, health insurance, and a pension. There would be no more “heartwarming” stories about figure skaters working at Home Depot while NBC sells $1.5 billion in advertising to the country watching them skate.
As government employees, the salaries paid to make up the difference in any outside earnings would be public knowledge, ensuring we never again repeat the embarrassment of vastly overpaying a far less successful men’s team compared to their women’s team counterpart, as what was occurring with US soccer until last month. Beyond the Olympics, the DOS should employ other national team athletes — most notably the men’s and women’s soccer World Cup teams and their junior counterparts. By guaranteeing earnings to all national-level athletes, no longer will the world of elite competition be gated only to those with the resources needed to buy world-class equipment and dozens of plane tickets.
Eventually, the hypothetical DOS could expand and serve as a solution to the pending implosion of collegiate athletics. In a post NCAA v. Alston world, no longer can the NCAA limit the earnings of college athletes. This was a long overdue change, but it also means the question is no longer “if” but “when” college athletes will professionalize. Already, the National Labor Relations Board has moved away their previous stance and stated that college athletes are now eligible for unionization. It is only a matter of time until all the athletic department resources at a school shift toward their semi-pro basketball and football teams.
But college sports are incredibly fun. From UCLA gymnastics to Denver lacrosse, the standout programs in small-money sports are just as enriching for their campus communities as their football teams. If football and basketball drain all the resources and endorsement money away from these sports and administrators move to cut swimming and diving or track and field teams, we will all be worse off. As a country, the USA will also lose its pipeline of Olympic talent.
Instead, the DOS would step in and offer scholarships to the athletes in the non-revenue sports. Colleges already refer to the sports outside of basketball, football, and sometimes hockey or baseball as “Olympic sports” anyway, so why not go the full distance and let the federal sports agency take over. The top tier athletes would then already be in the DOS system and could naturally transition to full-time federal athletes when they graduate from college and want to train for international competition.
I know this proposal will never happen. It’s also far from being a priority for government action. But it’s fun to think about — and I genuinely do believe it would improve the experience for high-level athletes in this country, as well as our World Cup and Olympic experience as a whole.
The Olympics and the World Cup are evil. Every host city/country loses money after hosting the ceremonies Thousands of people are displaced as neighborhoods around stadiums are gentrified. Already Los Angeles is directing millions from its budget to remove homeless encampments and beef up cooperation with federal law enforcement in advance of the 2026 World Cup and 2028 Olympics. Residents of the host cities rarely, if ever, get an input on whether they even want a massive international event to take over their home for a month.
But damn these competitions are fun to watch. So at the very least, we could make it so that dedicating your life to win athletic glory for your country won’t bankrupt you like everything else in the United States.
Things I Enjoyed This Week
Why Obama-era pop culture feels so cringe now | Vox
The Human Toll of America’s Air Wars | The New York Times
Target Supremacy: What You Should Know About the 2013 Security Breach | Unicorn Riot
Revolt of the NYC Delivery Workers | The Verge
The Birth of ‘The Argument’ | Grantland (RIP)
As far as I can remember, this is my first ever Saturday edition of IBT. We will see if more or less people read it! In the meantime, I am holding true to my promise to try and post once per week whenever possible.
I hope your employer is observing Juneteenth and you are enjoying a three day weekend. Stay safe, be well, and thank you as always for reading.
No elections or presidential nominees. Just a combine for the U.S. Ministry of Sport.