The U.S. Soccer Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of young people in under-resourced communities through soccer. With the 2026 World Cup coming to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, we see a generational opportunity to leverage this simple game as a vehicle to drive positive social change and achieve corporate social responsibility objectives in an authentic, impactful, and enduring way.
At a time when many companies are still struggling to find meaningful ways to fulfill public pledges to support equity and social justice following the murder of George Floyd and other recent tragedies, the years leading up to the World Cup provide a high-visibility opportunity to make good on those promises.
A legacy of the 1994 World Cup held in the United States, the U.S. Soccer Foundation helped Major League Soccer get off the ground, supported every iteration of the professional women’s league and supported programs and field building initiatives benefiting millions of children in all 50 states. The game grew phenomenally in the ensuing years.
However, when we paused to survey the landscape, we saw that most of that growth was driven by participation among affluent, (mostly white) suburban families. Children of color, particularly those growing up in under-resourced communities, were not part of that growth story. Cost and transportation present barriers for too many children.
So, in 2009, we changed our focus and our mission. The Foundation developed innovative programs such as Soccer for Success, which provides coaching and nutrition education to young people in under-resourced communities. We also train coaches to serve as mentors who help children develop critical life skills such as leadership, teamwork, perseverance, and accountability. We cultivated relationships with a national network of community- based organizations that are committed to using soccer as a tool to lift children up, foster social cohesion, and help strengthen under- resourced communities.
Today, the U.S. Soccer Foundation has worked with community partners to provide more than 500,000 children with free or low-cost access to life-changing programs. In the last six years the Foundation installed more than 600 places for those children to play and stay active right in the neighborhoods where they live and go to school. Most importantly, 83% of participants in our programs show improved health outcomes, 86% show improved youth development outcomes such as increased engagement in school and avoidance of negative social behavior, and 81% say they feel better about their future. That last data point translates to hope.
The opportunity represented by the World Cup goes beyond programmatic outcomes. Soccer is the world’s game. Through participation, children instantly become part of the global community and share something with their peers around the world. The game is a gateway to engaging other cultures and expanding understanding. Sadly, many Black children aren’t participating simply because they have never been introduced to the game.
The U.S. Soccer Foundation has a bold vision for the future, in which all young people in the United States have access to safe places to play and the opportunities and support to develop their skills and thrive. Our goal is to engage 1 million children in under- resourced communities and to install 1,000 safe places for those children to play by the 2026 World Cup.
This is also an opportunity for corporations to think about how the three years leading up to this mega-event provides a framework to address equity and social justice commitments in authentic and impactful ways.
The Foundation’s work is guided by a commitment to equity and inclusion, and the belief that soccer can be a powerful force for social change. By investing in safe places to play, providing coaching and training, promoting healthy lifestyles, and fostering community connections, the U.S. Soccer Foundation is working to create a healthier and more vibrant future for all young people.