Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sunil Gulati Makes a Run for FIFA's Executive Committee

Reuters reports that Sunil Gulati, the head of the US Soccer Federation, and arguably the most powerful person in US soccer, is making a run to join FIFA's Executive Committee:
CONCACAF, the confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean, said U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati and Mexican Football Federation president Justino Compean will face off in an election on April 19 in Panama City.

The pair are standing for the position of North American representative to FIFA's executive but a vote will be taken of all CONCACAF's member associations at the April congress.

The position was held for 16 years by American Chuck Blazer, who has not put himself forward for a fifth term.

The vote will provide a barometer of the balance of power within CONCACAF after the scandal involving former president Jack Warner, who resigned after allegations of 'cash for votes' in the FIFA presidential election.

Trinidadian Warner dominated CONCACAF from the late 1980's and his departure in June 2011 has led to major changes in the body.

Gulati also faces a challenger for a place on CONCACAF's own executive -- Canadian Victor Montagliani is standing against the American.
Chuck Blazer left the position under a dark cloud. I have no doubts that Gulati would be a huge improvement. He was kind enough to read an early draft of my FIFA governance paper and offer comments and suggestions. Gulati, who also serves as an senior lecturer in the Department of Economics at Columbia University, is very smart and thoughtful.

However, Gulati also keeps a low profile and is extremely measured in his public comments. He served on the FIFA Independent Governance Committee (and in the process, illustrating the misnomer "independent"), but has never (to my knowledge) spoken publicly about FIFA reform or the committee's work. He turned down a request to be interviewed for this blog about the FIFA reform process, after seeing my questions.

If he is elected to the FIFA Executive Committee he should expect to face far more questions (and demands for answers) about the US role in FIFA governance. I'd speculate that this might work against his being elected.

He was asked by reporters last month about the 2022 World Cup decision process, and he replied:
I read the same stuff you guys read about investigations. It doesn’t make any sense to comment on that.
Come on. I'd hope that reporters press much harder in the future, and Gulati recognizes that he has an obligation to shed some sunlight on FIFA's governance.

Gulati did open up a bit about how the US looks at the hosting decision process:
Would we [the US] bid in the future? Sure. When in the future, I don’t know. And under what rules, I don’t know. The rules are going to have to be different. The rules need to be much stronger, much stricter about what it is okay and what is not okay [in lobbying efforts]. It’s clear — and this is a tough one for the U.S. and we’ve discussed this at length with the U.S. Olympic Committee  – the role of nation states has become even more critical, that it’s not about a bid committee only. That’s always been true up to a point with governement guarantees. But we are never going to have a situation where the U.S. is going to be able to try to influence a World Cup or Olympic bidding decision that are a matter of our foreign policy or geopolitics. It’s just not that critical to the U.S. Hosting the World Cup or Olympics doesn’t change the face of the U.S. economy. … Can you imagine an American president ever saying, ‘Okay, we will sign a new treaty with a country because they have a voter for something.’ It’s just not the way it works. So that is all going to have to shake out. We have a lot of advantages. We have a country that doesn’t have to virtually build any facility for a World Cup, plus we have a country that could sell 40 to 50 percent more tickets than anyone else could, given the size of our NFL stadiums. We have a country that could host a World Cup several months from now if we needed to do. … In a day where world growth rates are down and economic issues are important, FIFA and the IOC need to understand asking people to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure, unless it has long-term use, is a pretty big ask.
The implication implicit in Gulati's comments -- about what is done in the voting process by others, but not by the US -- deserves much more open discussion.

The election takes place in little over a month.


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