Under normal circumstances – whatever they are – one of the best qualified people to take over the disgraced power called FIFA would be Sunil Gulati.
Gulati, 55, is in the prime of life, an international-minded economist who teaches at Columbia University.
He is as American as apple pie (or vegetarian samosa.)
He has been active in soccer, in FIFA, forever.
And that’s part of the problem.
I hasten to add that I have known Gulati since the early 1980’s, when I stood with – sometimes between – Paul Gardner and Sunil Gulati, as they conducted a wind-blown seminar in the bleachers at Columbia (great teams back then.) It was like standing between Jefferson and Hamilton at the Continental Congress. A rookie could learn a lot.
Gulati has done just about anything in soccer – played it, refereed it, volunteered, and moved up the ladder to currently president of the United States Soccer Federation and member of the executive committee of FIFA. He is a lifer, smart and progressive, international in family, international in knowledge.
Gulati has also lived and worked in the same organization, the same town, as Chuck Blazer, the extravagant long-time FIFA bag man right out of a Paul Simon lyric. (“Fat Charlie the Archangel/ Slipped into the room….Sad as a lonely little wrinkled balloon….” -- Crazy Love, Vol. 2)
Soccer’s Fat Charlie the Archangel is singing his own sad little tune in court in a wheelchair on Wednesday. I have no reason to believe there is anything he could say about Gulati, who most recently cast a most prophetic figure by openly voting for Prince Ali of Jordan when Sepp Blatter still appeared to have the power to crush yet another opponent like one more june bug.
When it counted, when the world was watching, Gulati cast his career on the side of reform and change. He sent one more signal to the world that FIFA was even worse than it appeared.
(In the current paperback revision of my soccer book, “Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer,” with a new chapter on the 2014 World Cup, I write about Sepp Blatter: “By the end of 2014 it seemed clear that, in some cosmic way, FIFA had been found out.” End of blatant plug.)
FIFA has indeed been found out, most importantly by Loretta Lynch, that already legendary attorney general. Fat Charlie the Archangel and the Warner Brothers are singing. Mud is going to be flying for a long time, people turning on their colleagues. This is Elmore Leonard territory – not about truth but about what desperate people claim to be the truth. Goodness knows what's out there. Logic says FIFA cannot afford to move ahead with any insider running it.
(Michel Platini? Quelle blague. What a joke. This silky footballer, now a jowly insider, promised to vote for the U.S. for 2022, but then backed Qatar, which soon became France’s best new football friend.)
However, to name an American as head of FIFA, with the 2018 and 2022 World Cups gurgling in there like a bad meal, would only stir up the hornet nests of Putin and the Qataris – sounds like a doo-wop group, but far more troublesome.
The United States would love to be part of a North American World Cup in 2026, stretching from Toronto to Mexico City. Far as I know, this is Sunil Gulati’s idea, told to me in a friendly chat in his office a few years ago.
If FIFA cannot consider an American, that is a shame because the U.S. has a great supply of executives who could run soccer more cleanly than Blatter and the Goniffs (another doo-wop group) have done.
From the past generation, I could name David Stern, Peter Ueberroth and Dick Ebersol as sports people of vision and intelligence and honesty. Mitt Romney restored credibility to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Goodness knows there are corporate executives of multinationals that sponsor the World Cup who could run FIFA without the third-world bribery and threats that kept Blatter in power.
Prince Ali of Jordan is the nominal favorite, given his challenge to Blatter. He has many strengths. But I have now written 750 words about FIFA and have not talked myself out of the possibility that the American insider Sunil Gulati could also run this shamed organization.
6/4/2015 06:20:57 am
Politically, I don't see an American or anyone from UK.
6/4/2015 09:19:55 am
It has been just over a week since the criminal inquiry into FIFA was announced. In this brief period, many FIFA members and entities that do business with them, have almost daily come forward with damming information and suggestions for reform.
6/4/2015 12:28:20 pm
George, this is way beyond my pay grade to comment usefully. I sometimes, but rarely, followed international kick-a-ball (my wife's dismissive term for soccer) because the role of the refs was too reminiscent of the NBA refs deciding games in the sixties (and beyond). It just plain didn't appear on its face to be honest. However, for me to learn from your post that Gulati is a Columbia professor who loves his game , that makes me pay attention. As a 16 year old freshman I learned to love the game of rugby by a classics teacher who coached my college club team and later became head of the Classics Department of Columbia; a man by the name of Peter Pouncey. If one is a serious academic, and you can teach kids to love your sport, you are a pretty substantial human being in my book and just can't be prone to dishonesty.
6/4/2015 12:45:01 pm
It appears that "Fat Charlie" has rolled on 'the boss' leading to his resignation. We shall see.
6/4/2015 12:57:54 pm
Could Sunil run FIFA? Of course. Personally, I think he would be a breath of much-needed fresh air and would do a good job. Will he ever get the chance to do so? No way. Never. He has never been particularly popular among those who vote at FIFA, and he will be even less so now after "the Americans" threatened to break their rice bowls. Only and Englishman would have less of a chance. I also think he's always been looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion, as an American, and has also been resented by some, I am told, for what is perceived as a certain arrogance. As for the future, those 133 who voted for Blatter still support Blatter. They did not suddenly embrace reform and they will not be supporting Prince Ali. They want to protect the status quo. In pole position now is UEFA President Platini(aka Blatter Light and a "great friend" of Qatar). There is also talk of another European, Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA exec who was once close to Blatter. But a European would also be a longshot. The guy everyone needs to be worrying about now is Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, a loyal supporter of Blatter who covets the job and was already planning to succeed Blatter in four years time. Not surprisingly, he has a reputation for buying whatever he needs, which I would presume to also include votes. Something else to keep in mind is this. Some people are celebrating as if Blatter has actually resigned and left the building. He has not. He has merely stated his intention to step down once a successor has been chosen. Until that happens he will still be showing up every day and running the FIFA show, presumably trying to pilot a chosen successor into the job. One thing he will most definitely NOT be doing is landing in the United States anytime soon, not unless he pulls a Blazer and becomes a cooperating witness. Blatter has stated that now-only now-can he dedicate himself full time to leading that long overdue reform that somehow always eluded him previously. Right. That makes about as much sense as asking Richard Nixon not to resign as President because his leadership was so sorely needed in the effort to uncover the real culprits behind the Watergate burglary.
6/4/2015 02:25:05 pm
If I can be indulged in one more brief comment, I kind of agree with Alan. From a purely political standpoint, stranger things happen all the time in the realm of politics. If, as George has said, the Russian award isn't clearly nonsensical or undeserving, and our Columbia Prof were to agree and urge a revote giving his personal support for the same result if it happens, then the Bear and it's many cubs might well go along.
6/4/2015 03:07:17 pm
If we look across the range of possibilities, I think Dr. Gulati is at one extreme: representing intellect, transparency, honesty and integrity, and in a stable, economically strong nation with a strong criminal justice system where most people cannot prosper safely by blatant corruption and where there are many other important (I didn't same "more important") forms of sport and entertainment besides soccer football. At the other extreme are the many obvious examples, mostly small countries but also including the Putiniverse, where relative might makes right, whether corrupt or not. Although, to us sharing Dr. Gulati's extreme (and ideals, I like to think) this extreme might be ideal to lead the world, it is rare for the group to agree on an extreme.
6/5/2015 01:07:32 am
What great comments, thanks, everybody. Just want to footnote that John McDermott covered as many World Cups as I did for Newsweek and his own site, I won't drop names, but he has friends all over world football....and, I can say it, his comments are quite informed. To see his portfolio:
6/5/2015 04:13:42 am
You are very kind, George. Thank you. I just wanted to say how much I love your "Fat Charlie the Archangel" reference. It jogged a memory. I always had a feeling that Chuck Blazer reminded me of someone from my childhood, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Now I remember. It was our neighborhood version of Fat Charle, a morbidly obese guy with a big Cadillac and no visible means of support. He was, in fact, the local bookie and numbers runner. How appropriate.
6/5/2015 07:56:53 am
John, in the same manner, Chris Christie reminds me of blow-hard guys from my neighborhood in Queens I was stunned to hear he was a high-school catcher. Blazer, in fact, was a reasonably healthy looking soccer dad until he began to palm all that FIFA money. Then he just kept getting bigger, eating off money that allegedly went for fields and uniforms and balls for kids. GV
6/5/2015 04:27:00 am
My how things snowball. The head of the European soccer federation demands that Blatter leave now. The Washington Post details how Qatar donations to the Clinton Foundation coincided with Clinton support for their World Cup bid. South Asia papers begin to strike up the band of support for Gulati. All bets are off, the bookies have shut the windows!
6/5/2015 07:57:58 am
Brian, thanks for that news. You go out for a few hours and there's more news....Best, GV
6/6/2015 02:58:05 am
As I try to sort through the avalanche of allegations, for what it's worth, these are two reports I've found helpful to me:
6/6/2015 03:44:42 am
Brian, that vote for 2006 was epic, with that Dempsey vanishing from the meeting. Thanks for this article.
6/6/2015 04:34:08 am
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.