A Global Role for Gulati?

This morning U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati will officially inform FIFA that the United States is eager to stage a future World Cup - two World Cups, in fact, those of 2018 and 2022, though it knows it can only get one of them.

It will not get the 2018 edition -- that will go to Europe, probably to England. So we're talking about a distant 2022. The FIFA executive committee will vote on these two venues in December of 2010. If the vote is positive for the USA, Gulati and company will then have 11+ years to put on the show.

That ought to be enough -- it's longer than anyone else has had so far, almost double the six years the USA itself had to put on the 1994 World Cup. Which is still, in terms of spectator attendances, the most successful World Cup ever.

First things first. Gulati will announce today the immediate formation of a Bid Committee. This is not to organize the World Cup, but to do all the work -- a lot of work, much of it tedious -- to prepare the Bid Book, the weighty document that must be submitted to FIFA by May 2010. The crucial, fact-jammed document that will either convince or deter FIFA ExCo members when the time comes to cast their votes.

I expect a new set of names on the Bid Committee. A mixture of soccer and political people, what I might term "younger" people. Beyond that, I see low-profile officers who will excel in the fields of organization, detail, presentation -- and politics. The Bid Book will need to contain assurances to FIFA that no political -- i.e. government -- obstacles will stand in the way of an event in which every nation of the world competes.

Having said that, there is another role to be played between now and Dec. 10. Vote gathering. The FIFA ExCo has 24 members, distributed among FIFA's six continental confederations. Eight members are from Europe, 4 each from Africa and Asia, 3 each from Concacaf and South America, 1 from Oceania. Plus FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is European, though independently so -- i.e. he does not represent UEFA. To get its bid accepted, the USA has to cull 13 of those votes.

That will be Gulati's job. He will start with three assured votes -- those of the three Concacaf members. Assuming that is, that the USA bid gets preference over the Mexican bid. A safe assumption. After that, the peculiar situation arises -- it's never before happened -- of the ExCo conducting simultaneous voting for two World Cups. This is something that makes cooperative voting virtually certain.

Another assumption: that the Europeans will vote in a bloc, the UEFA bloc. Maybe that cannot relied upon, because it means the ExCo members must vote at the instruction of their Confederation. That -- notoriously -- didn't happen back in 2000, when the New Zealander Charlie Dempsey (the one-man Oceania bloc) failed to vote for South Africa -- in fact, he failed to vote at all, thus handing the 2006 World Cup to Germany. Indignation against Dempsey ran high -- because, we were told, his confederation had told him to vote for South Africa. But we were also told that wasn't likely, because the confederations did not mandate to its members how to vote -- the ExCo members were "representatives," not "delegates."

But an 8-vote European bloc looks likely (possibly 9 votes if Blatter is included) when the final vote comes around. Add in 3 Concacaf votes, and you only need one, or two, more for a majority. So, Concacaf pledges its 3 votes for the European candidate in 2018, in return for Europe's pledge of 8 votes for the USA in 2022. Leaving only one, or two, valuable votes to be found to ensure the required majority for each of the venue votes.

Either way, this looks like a good scenario for Europe and the USA. It looks like a fair one, as well. England, if it is to be England, has not staged a World Cup since 1966, so it is due. Russia, another European candidate, has never staged one. Concacaf has been waiting since 1994 (that will be a 28 year wait by 2022).

If the bloc voting is considered unreliable, then Gulati will have to exert a lot of influence, do a lot of traveling, and produce a lot of impressive charm. I have no doubt that he can do all of that. In fact, in many ways I see the campaign for the 2022 World Cup as the circumstance that will herald the arrival of Gulati as a major player in world soccer. Of course, that's a good thing for American soccer. But it's also positive for the world game.

I have known Gulati for many years. I know him as someone who has grown up with the sport, with an extraordinarily wide range of experience in it. I know him, too, as an ambitious man. Not ambitious in the obnoxious sense, not the humorless, narrowly focused, ruthless, get-out-of-my-way type. Not at all. I mean a man who wants to succeed -- to the top -- at what he knows he is good at. His intelligence cannot be doubted, nor his devotion, while his judgment in soccer politics has so far been close to impeccable.

I have also known the world of soccer, and its top officers, for many years -- longer than I have known Gulati. I cannot recall any of those VIPS with better credentials, or any who have made a better impression on me, than Gulati. This World Cup campaign will bring him into negotiations with leaders from many countries, and he enters that field with the independence of a third-world leader, for that's what the USA is in soccer terms, a third-world country. With the potential to be a major power. Something that Gulati can help to bring about.

I need to make another assumption. That Gulati will continue as president of the US Soccer Federation, that he will be re-elected in 2010, in 2014 and 2018 and 2022 (there is no limit on the number of terms the president may serve). Plus the overall assumption that Gulati wants to do this. The way I have spelled it out, making it sound like a path to power ... he may well balk at that. But as a step-by-step accomplishment to become not the most powerful, but the most influential man in soccer? We shall see.


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