Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"I'm Kind of a Big Deal"

"Ron: I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal.
Veronica:  Really.
Ron: People know me.
Veronica: Well, I'm very happy for you.
Ron: Um, I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books,
and my apartment smells of rich mahogany."

Far be it from me to suggest that Sunil Gulati would use the same terms to identify himself, and every indication is that he wouldn't, but the fact is he's kind of a big deal. That was emphasized late last month when he was elected by representatives of CONCACAF to serve on FIFA's Executive Committee.

Call me naive if you will, but I truly believe that Gulati has worked for the New England Revolution, MLS, the U.S. Soccer Federation, and now FIFA because he wants to advance the game in America. The unfortunate reality, however, is that he may be alone among the 25 members of the ExCom to put the game's interests above his own.

I admit, you can almost hear:
"I have many leather-bound books."
(photo from the "San Diego's #10" blog)

The tales of the excesses and arrogance of the men who run FIFA are legendary. Kickbacks, bribes, and private jets appear to be the rule, not the exception, when it comes to business as usual for the FIFA poo bahs. Some have suggested that the first question from most of Gulati's less-than-luminous predecessors upon their election was "just how many World Cup tickets do I get?"

I suspect that Gulati has bigger fish to fry. After the failed U.S. attempt to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup, Gulati didn't cry foul, as he was surely tempted to do, after many years of effort in the bid went down in flames (in particular, those from the gas wells in Qatar). Instead he shrugged his shoulders and vowed to carry on the fight for soccer in the States.

If Gulati sees his election as an attempt to remake FIFA from a fiefdom of stuffy old men in fancy suits into the actual international organizing body of the most popular sport in the world, he may have a few allies. Michel Platini, the President of UEFA (Europe's CONCACAF equivalent), is another influential member of the international soccer community who actually appears to have the best interests of the game at heart.

Can one or two or a few men change the mindset of what is essentially a huge multi-national corporation based on graft and backscratching? Time will tell. But that seems to be precisely what Gulati has in mind.

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