Emily Dean (ED): Every profession has its beginning. I know you have some major history in the sport of soccer itself with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks and Major League Soccer (MLS). Where did your love for soccer begin? And where, along professional lines, did this love for the sport turn into a career for you?
Jim Brown (JB): I was born overseas but had American parents. I went to college at 18 in the U.S., and that was my first time actually living in the U.S. instead of overseas. Wherever I lived growing up, sports were very important. The sport of soccer was always the biggest sport around and, not only that, but a big part of the culture. That was not the only sport I played, but my brothers and I were all very good at it. I played other sports in college, but I decided to mainly go after and play soccer while in the states. I then went and taught [and coached] soccer at an international school overseas. I decided I wanted to continue in sports, but I did not see myself as a player for the next 20 years. I wanted to continue in the business of sports. After coaching, I landed my first major job at the World Cup in 1994.
ED: How long did it take you to work your way up to the position of executive director of competitions that you find yourself in now? Was it a hard transition from being a player to being in the business? Do you have any advice for people looking to be in the sporting industry? Any general advice for people making their way in a profession they have an absolute love for?
JB: I started working as a volunteer in 1990 coaching soccer at the high school level. My first paid position was in 1991 for the Blackhawks. I joined FIFA in 2003, and it took over 12 years to get there. I have now been in the business for around 20 years. No, for me the transition was never really an issue. … It was exciting. There were suddenly players far greater than I ever was, and I got the opportunity to work alongside of them. I was all of a sudden working alongside Eric Wynalda and Marcelo Balboa from the U.S. national teams.
In the sporting industry, my only advice is to realize that a start is a start. To start anywhere is positive. Some people get lucky with higher starts, but the reality is most do not just get lucky, and you need to get started somewhere and take advantage of it. I was always quite focused in on the level or task I had before me before moving on or looking for higher positions. Focus on what you are doing and do your best job. Never worry about what others are doing.
There is a big difference between loving a sport and loving to work in a sport. It does not mean that working in it is what you think it is. At 27, I was working at the 1994 World Cup and my sister asked what I did at the game involving the U.S. and Brazil.
Technically, what I had done that day my sister did not find that interesting at all. It is tedious and basic at first, but you have to enjoy what you are doing at all steps. [You have to] love the work before what you think the work is. It is not as “sexy” of a job as you think it is sometimes.
ED: What have been your most memorable experiences as executive director thus far?
JB: Looking up in the stands at the South Africa 2009 FIFA Confederation Cup was unforgettable. A 50-year-old, white, South African male was the groundskeeper for the games and had been for many years at South Africa’s famous Ellis Park Stadium. He said that for the first time in his life, he saw white people and black people in the same stadium. It was a monumental moment in that an entire country came together. The passion seen in the kids and people in those stands was touching – just the look on their faces that they were actually there, taking nothing for granted.
The most memorable, famous incident was the final of the 2006 World Cup. Italy and France went into overtime where [Zinedine] Zidane was kicked out of the game for a red card. France won the game, but the key issue and decision I was behind was whether or not Zidane, the captain of France’s team, would be allowed to go to the trophy ceremony or not. Also, my most memorable moments have been being in charge of the World Cup in 2006 and 2010 and working towards and for the next World Cup in 2014.
ED: What are your favorite countries to travel to in the business?
JB: My two most memorable events in terms of countries were the Sydney Olympics of 2000 [and Germany in 2006]. It was a huge experience in Sydney, and I was in Sydney for almost three years in charge of the Olympic stadium and what was to happen there. The country is wonderful.
Germany for the 2006 World Cup was a favorite as well. My neighbor to where I was staying at the time said it was the first time flags were hanging out of their houses in years. They were so proud of what they were able to achieve as a country. Germany is a far better country and group of people than what they have been depicted to be throughout the course of history.
Lastly, South Africa is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Seeing success as not only a country, but also a continent altogether, was amazing. Meeting the great man Nelson Mandela was such an honor.
ED: What players in present day and in history do you have an especially high respect for and why?
JB: In terms of soccer, Pelé [of Brazil] was the most memorable athlete I met. He is amazing for his passion and being such an astounding man both on and off the sport. He stands out immensely.
Franz Beckenbauer of Germany is easily top two or three in the world in the history of soccer and is a very good friend of mine. He is quite impressive and excellent at everything he does.
I cannot say for any current players that any really truly stand out. Messi is currently the best player in the world. He looks like a little kid but is the best in the world at what he does. I met him when he was just 17 years old.
ED: Most memorable moment for you in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa?
JB: Ironically, aside from the 2009 Confederations Cup, I remember the beginning for South Africa vs. Germany. Germany was expected to perform well, but the entire world was surprised because South Africa proved impeccable immediately. They proved that they were in this cup just as much as any other country and they truly came together. Secondly, I was able to see the final with Italy vs. France. The Italy vs. France final was epic. The start to this cup, in its entirety, went smoothly and countries came together quickly.
ED: Now for the future, the 2014 World Cup taking place in Brazil. There is a lot of speculation about the potential dangers of having the World Cup in Brazil, especially when Rio de Janeiro is brought up. What are your thoughts on this? What are your current expectations for the 2014 World Cup?
JB: Like South Africa there was speculation, but it is going to be a great event. It is going to be the biggest party in the world. Brazil is so passionate and I know it will be a great World Cup.
Security is always an issue, especially for big cities, but Rio is doing a lot currently to correct that and I do not think it will be a factor for anyone that goes to Brazil for the World Cup.
ED: The action of many countries basically kidnapping players into the sport and training them for the purpose of playing for their country from a young age is a sad reality. Some countries are willing to do anything to win. Can you tell us a little bit more about this sad reality and what we need to be aware about?
JB: The reality is there are some things like this that occur in FIFA and World Cup soccer and we are making sure these kids are taken care of and handled correctly. In certain parts of the world, especially Europe and South America, kids are so talented at young ages and these countries have the money to pay for them, to give them protection and perhaps a better life. They are trying to give them a dream to work for and it is truly better for the families behind these kids. Their training often turns into a profession. Often times it is the only way to get out of poverty and danger.
ED: Finally, How do you balance it all?
JB: My priority is always family. I spend lots of time in Park City, Utah with them. I commute and travel an awful lot, but the balance is there. A lot of people make a decision in what they think is important and family is my number one. I realize that raising kids and making sure everyone is having a good time and making the right decisions is key. It is about working hard and the time you make and putting family first.