KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON —- Sunil Gulati wants world federation FIFA to redesign the entire World Cup bidding roadmap to avoid the road crash which has become Qatar 2022.
Gulati, who headed up the unsuccessful United States bid for the 2018 finals in his role as president of the US Soccer Federation, was addressing the Leaders Sports Summit here at Stamford Bridge.
Since the vote on December 2, 2010, Gulati has shot up the ladder of international football influence. He was a member of the independent governance committee set up in 2011 to lead the FIFA reform process then, earlier this year, became a FIFA executive committee representing the central and North American confederation [CONCACAF].
These rapid twists and career turns have presented Gulati with a series of teasing diplomatic challenges which he managed to navigate smoothly. His present role means he can talk about the US bid only through a FIFA exco prism: he is a poacher turned gamekeeper.
In that way Gulati talked about his disappointment at the bid defeat yet praise the exco’s decision to last Friday to launch a lengthy worldwide consultation process into whether and how the 2022 World Cup could be moved away from the searing summer temperatures in Qatar.
Gulati said: “FIFA made the right decision last week to take its time about deciding on the timing. So now, over the next six months or 12 months or even 18 months, FIFA will look at it and all the commercial contracts and make the best decision. There are lots of thoughts on it but you need to look at a whole bunch of other factors.
“Looking back it was a difficult day and a controversial decision. We had worked hard for a couple of years to make sure we won it.”
The decision was controversial because it was deemed to have been taken by an exco whose senior membership was voting out of political and personal interests. Nine of those 22 had now left the exco, most in digrace during the reform process.
Gulati said: “There’s been a lot of very positive changes in the exco which has been a big plus for FIFA and for the growth of the game. What I don’t understand is what the rush [to a timing decision this autumn].
“The event is nine years away it’s a hugely important decision to change the national calendar so not have a thorough, vetted study and understand what it means to those commercial contracts would be foolhardy so FIFA has made the right decision.”
Gulati pointed up problems for the US Fox TV channel if the finals were moved because of the broadcasting clash with gridiron football.
In future, however, the bidding system needed a root and branch overhaul partly because different countries had very different priorities in terms of the social and political relevance of hosting a World Cup or Olympic Games.
He said: “I understand that going to South Africa, Russia, Qatar is going to places which have never staged the World Cup.
“It’s a different situation for the US or England who will never operate a foreign policy depending on hosting a World Cup so the rules need to be clear.
“For example, it’s all about going to new lands then, fine, let us know and we won’t bother [bidding] and England and Japan and Korea wouldn’t have bothered either. The rules need to clearer and tighter and the process needs to be better.”
Gulati said that the US would, in due course, decide on whether to bid for the 2026 finals but that depended on a defined bid document.
He said: “We’d want more clarity on not just the rules but the whole process. Next time around the entire congress will decide. I’m not sure if that’s ideal of not.”
# # # # #