By Paul Kennedy
Sunil Gulati is everything Sepp Blatter isn't.
The U.S. Soccer president is nuanced; the FIFA president blunt. Gulati, the 53-year-old Columbia economics teacher, is generally soft-spoken. At 77, Blatter often comes across as an old man who doesn't care what anyone thinks of what he says.
In his first remarks since being elected to the FIFA’s executive committee, Gulati expressed support for more transparency in FIFA affairs in sharp contrast to the secrecy Blatter, the Swiss businessman, has craved throughout his rise through the ranks.
Asked if he'd disclose what he'd earn from FIFA as a member of the executive committee, Gulati responded, “The answer would be yes, with a caveat."
(See the nuance.)
“I don’t know what the rules of the road are there," added Gulati, who admitted he had not been told what he'll make, "but in the absence of that, it’s my belief that FIFA should, in fact, disclose the compensation of directors. I would have no problem of disclosing if it’s not a violation of any provision with FIFA for directors.”
(It should be added that FIFA will vote next month on a reform package that does not include releasing the pay of its exco members.)
Differences exist between what is acceptable in the United States and in most other countries on corporate governance covering such issues as transparency, conflicts of interest and bribery.
In Europe -- where FIFA politics are viewed most closely -- Gulati is viewed as just that -- a reformer. But to most of the American soccer community, he is viewed as an insider.
His work on FIFA's Independent Governance Committee -- which has developed reform policies in light of the frequent scandals involving FIFA executive committee members -- makes him an agent of change.
But Gulati is also the ultimate insider, holding the position of "FIFA Ticketing consultant" on FIFA Ticketing AG. What does FIFA Ticketing AG do? It decides who'll get how many tickets for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and at the end of the day has just one goal in mind: make as much money for FIFA as reasonably possible.
One does not know what Gulati or his Mexican counterpart, Justino Compean, said to the 35 members of Concacaf that voted for the North America representative on the FIFA executive committee on Friday in Panama City. There was not much of a public campaign expect for perhaps the Mexican federation's parading a Caribbean delegation around Mexico City's Azteca Stadium during the Mexico-USA game last month.
The vote was public, though, and it was not decided 18-17 in Gulati's favor until the final vote registered by Anguilla -- a British overseas territory with a population of 13,600 -- broke a 17-17 tie.
Besides those from United States and Canada, all 16 of Gulati's other votes came from English-speaking countries in the Caribbean. (The seven Central American countries, while not unanimous in their preferences, according to Gulati, agreed to vote as a bloc and went with Compean.)
Jeff Webb, installed as Concacaf president from the Cayman Islands in 2012, publicly expressed neutrality in the Gulati-Compean election.
Before Friday's Concacaf Congress in Panama City, Blatter and FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke toured the Caribbean, and we don't know if at any point of their trip they took Webb out to the woodshed and explained to him who he should be supporting, but one can safely presume that Blatter and Valcke were pleased with the outcome of the vote.
Gulati will now sit at a table and do soccer's business as a member of the FIFA executive committee, which does not have a good track record. Not that the other exco members are strangers. For years, he has done business with many of these men -- yes, until very recently FIFA was an all-male executive committee -- on behalf of U.S Soccer.
On Monday, the Associated Press ran a list of 12 executive committee members who have been accused of some level of corruption since October 2010.
Until now, the biggest FIFA battle of Gulati's career concerned the USA's bid to host the 2022 World Cup it ended up losing controversially to Qatar by a 14-8 vote of the executive committee in December 2010.
Of the 14 Qatar votes, seven were from exco members on that AP corruption list, though it should be added that two were USA supporters: American Chuck Blazer and Trinidadian Jack Warner -- both savaged in a Concacaf investigation into their tenure that was released on Friday. (Two other FIFA exco members were excluded from voting for the 2022 World Cup because of ethical violations; one recent addition is provisionally suspended.)
Blazer will hand over his seat on the FIFA exco to Gulati on May 30, and Warner quit two years in the aftermath of the 2011 Caribbean Football Union meeting at which sealed brown envelopes containing $40,000 in cash were offered as a gift to those in attendance to hear Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam talk about his bid to unseat Blatter.
Blazer blew the whistle on Warner and bin Hammam, and in the aftermath 31 individuals from Caribbean Football Union members were investigated by the FIFA Ethics Committee then in place to investigate corruption charges.
Webb had suggested that resentment against Blazer might work against his fellow American, Gulati, in his election against Compean, but 13 of the 16 Caribbean associations that voted for Gulati did so despite having individuals suspended, reprimanded, warned or fined or resign in the aftermath of the FIFA investigation into the CFU scandal.
Gulati will have walk a tight rope on any number of issues in his new position, not the least of which concerns Qatar 2022.
Asked on Monday why he had not commented on bribery allegations about Qatar's win, Gulati responded, “I congratulated Qatar the day they won the bid and we still do that. The rest is just rumors and commentary. Qatar is hosting the World Cup."
An investigation is ongoing into the bribery allegations, but nothing has yet been substantiated beyond the fact that Qatar used its economic might to leverage support for its bid.
But FIFA is very much caught between a rock and a hard place on Qatar 2022. Few believe realistically that holding the World Cup in Qatar during the summer -- when temperatures can exceed 110 degrees -- makes sense. But moving the World Cup to the winter, as has been suggested, might open up FIFA to a lawsuit from any one of the losing parties to the 2022 bid race on the basis that it changed the terms of condition to the bid after the fact.
At the Concacaf Congress in Panama City, Webb called for a Concacaf nation -- presumably the United State or Mexico -- to host the 2026 World Cup. As the FIFA rules are set forth now, the 2026 World Cup would be chosen from among candidates of only Concacaf, South America, Africa and Oceania.
"We've made it clear in the past that we think hosting a World Cup in the U.S. would be a positive," Gulati said. "That certainly is something we would be targeting in the future."
One of the toughest decisions he will face is whether to revisit the World Cup 2022 or build support for a USA-hosted World Cup 2026 that will likely -- in yet another twist of FIFA politics -- be decided by the full FIFA membership rather than the FIFA executive committee.
Friday's Concacaf Vote:
Sunil Gulati (USA) 18-- Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Islands, USA, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Justino Compean (Mexico) 17 --Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Suriname.