I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sunil Gulati take a stage as quickly as he did at the U.S. Youth Soccer gala. It was as if he felt an internal clock ticking as he tried to unleash 20 years of institutional knowledge while a bunch of youth soccer families waited for their dinners.
His hourlong session in Philly was similar. Unfortunately, that’s not posted online. But his speech at the gala is available (see above).
How much of this is the mere venting of someone who’s furious about being attacked on his way out of a long (and, we have to say, accomplished) tenure in office, and how much of it is a reality check on the other candidates and their backers? I’d say roughly 33% of the former and 67% of the latter.
Let’s check out his claims.
The tone of this election: “disappointing and disgusting” (1:15)
You wouldn’t guess that if you saw all the candidate sessions and the U.S. Youth Soccer forum with all eight candidates. (Which, as you know from Twitter, I did.) Everything was civil. The most pointed attack was from Hope Solo, who said Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro have had their opportunity to make change and they have not. Bare-knuckled politics, this is not.
But some of the discussion around the election has been nasty, and Gulati specifically referred to The Truck — somehow left in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center with neither a demonstration permit nor a special parking permit, according to the helpful city officials I contacted. He says it’s disgraceful. It is, but my understanding is that it’s actually backfiring on some of the more strident candidates, even though they’ve either (A) not claimed credit or (B) actively said “no, I didn’t do that.”
“At the last (Annual General Meeting), things seemed to be pretty good.”
In his hourlong session, Gulati went overboard in talking about how smoothly everything has run for the last 12-20 years. (See my post about it and search “roundup of transcripts.”)
Here, his basic point is half-right. Some issues are bound to have more light shed on them when we have an election. A lot of people are frankly ignorant about USSF in general. But he has a point that some folks who are now suddenly experts on everything USSF should be doing better were awfully quiet a few months ago.
Gulati seems shocked that this is suddenly an issue, and he’s happy to compare USSF to any other similar federation. How many have independent directors, he asks? (Not many, but the USSF search committee landed on far too many people who have some sort of tie to Gulati, Columbia, etc. You’d think they could at least get someone from the West Coast.)
He’s on slightly firmer ground when he talks about open board meetings (they have them, but they go into executive session far too often). He says they print every word of meetings, which is true for the National Council meeting (the big one, with everyone) at the AGM but not true for the board meetings, which have minutes that don’t really tell us much. He could’ve mentioned the AGM “book” with all the reports, which is usually released to the public at some point, though it’s a little hit-or-miss.
And they publish financial statements, as required by U.S. law but not required in many places elsewhere in the world. Yes, though we’re still waiting on the statements for the year ending March 31, 2017.
I think Gulati has a point here, but I’m willing to admit I’m a little biased because I’ve been frustrated by the sheer volume of people — mostly anonymous folks but also some candidates and their reps — who claim not to know something that’s right there in plain view on the USSF site.
Of course, the biggest transparency question is in regards to ….
Soccer United Marketing
“Everyone is conflicted in one way or another” may not be the best way to open this segment, but he’s absolutely right. By design, the National Council consists of representatives of all the state associations, and the board consists of representatives of the various councils.
He gives the history of SUM that we heard in a few other places in Philly — rewind to 2003, when IMG wanted out as the USSF marketing company, and SUM (formed in 2002 to save MLS) stepped in.
He says the agreement to renew SUM has been approved unanimously by the board three times. I’ve started to look into this. There’s an old trick — so old that I saw it in the very first board meeting (local hospital board) I ever attended as a journalist — in which the board has some debate but agrees to record the vote as unanimous. I have no evidence that USSF has done this, and I also haven’t heard from any disgruntled board members asking about SUM, and to my knowledge, no one else has. (There were reports that some board members wanted answers about how the Klinsmann contract was handled, a completely different issue, so it’s not as if the board is totally closed off to outside communication.)
Promotion/relegation: Changing the rules on people for undetermined benefit
This is at the 5:50 mark. And he’s right. I wish we’d have more discussion on potential ideas to phase into pro/rel, but I’m not sure how to make that happen. Maybe after the election, when we either have an open pro/rel advocate as president or the pro/rel-minded owners realize they’re going to need to work with the new “establishment” to make it happen.
No, the MLS summer schedule isn’t the reason Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup
Nor is it why Morocco could win the World Cup rights for 2026. He also points out near the end that whatever FIFA could complain about within U.S. Soccer can’t be fixed in the four months that remain in the World Cup bid campaign.
(I’ll skip the bits about whether to pay the president and what a “soccer person” is. He says little on the former, and he’s justifiably snarky about the latter.)
Now we’re getting to what he calls his fact check, starting at the 8:20 mark.
Gulati disputes claim: No one ever called Jonathan Gonzalez
He says Tab Ramos talked at the convention about how many times they talked, and he says Christian Pulisic called Gonzalez at Gulati’s request. He concedes USSF may not have done enough but blasts the idea that no one ever contacted Gonzalez.
He’s surely right by the letter of that statement, but most reasonable people aren’t saying USSF had no contact with Gonzalez.
Gulati disputes claim: We have “utter chaos in the states”
Gulati says USSF used to have a grievance or appeal every few weeks, and we haven’t had as many lately, which is a credit to the federation as a whole. From the available evidence, he’s right — if we’re defining “chaos” strictly as grievances and appeals. I’d make the case that “the states” are in chaos because youth soccer is in chaos.
Gulati disputes claim: In the Development Academy, we shouldn’t have the same restrictions on substitutions as we have in the rest of the world
This is an odd one in this list because it’s not a “fact.” That’s an opinion. He scoffs at the idea that the Development Academy should have more freedom of substitution than we have in pro-level games. I could frankly see an argument either way. North Carolina’s legendary women’s coach Anson Dorrance has pointed out that he has a lot of players who’ve made a commitment to play for him, and he thinks he should be able to spread out the playing time.
In any case, again — that’s not a “fact.”
Gulati disputes claim: USSF is out of compliance with 13 FIFA statutes
Wynalda actually said “bylaws or statutes.” In any case, Gulati says this is simply false, and in a few cases where we are out of compliance, it’s because we would be out of compliance with U.S. law.
“We’ve made it clear we’re not going to violate American law.”
The example he gives is training compensation and solidarity payments. “We’ve spent a lot of money with a lot of lawyers,” he says, and player reps have made it clear they will sue youth clubs who try to claim compensation.
This is one of those cases in which it’ll surely help to have new people at the table. Gulati’s surely correct on the facts here. But it doesn’t mean there’s no solution available.
Gulati disputes claim: “Heard from a self-confessed TV expert that 50% of our revenues come from TV.”
Easy to check, he says. It’s closer to 15-20%. “That’s only a several-million dollar error in the budget,” he quips.
No, it’s not easy to check, even if USSF’s accountants made every possible best-faith effort to explain it. How do you separate “sponsorship” money? How much sponsorship is predicated on TV appearances?
So I’m not sure I buy the notion that we can put a hard number on it. But I also have a hard time buying the notion that TV is “50%.” The Wynalda campaign is, as always, free to contact me to explain this figure.
Gulati disputes claim: “The board has little actual business acumen”
This one is also somewhat subjective, but I think Gulati makes a very strong point here. The independent directors in particular have plenty of business experience.
Side note: I’ve heard the claim that “business acumen” from Goldman Sachs and so forth is irrelevant because we’re talking about a nonprofit here. OK. But the board also includes, as Gulati points out, a former university president.
In fact, under Donna Shalala’s leadership, the University of Miami was ranked the most fiscally responsible nonprofit in the country, as I just learned. (Google is fun!) I wish I’d known that when someone talked my ear off about this topic.
Gulati disputes claim: “USSF needs a membership services department”
Gulati says one of the most lauded people in U.S. Soccer is Caitlin Carducci … of the membership services department.
You may argue, but I’ve heard from several people within U.S. Soccer who aren’t necessarily Gulati loyalists than up to 90% of what candidates say USSF should be doing are things USSF is already doing.
Maybe that’s exaggerated. But I have little doubt that the next president will be surprised to learn that some of his or her campaign points have already been addressed.
Gulati disputes claim: “We need multiple pathways that we don’t have now”
He claims they’re still sending scouts to ODP. How effective they are is anyone’s guess.
Gulati finishes by asking people to ask questions of the candidates. Hard questions.
He’s right. And we’ve got a few more days. Send me your questions, and I’ll ask.