U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati says the election of Donald Trump will have no bearing on whether the USSF decides to bid for the 2026 World Cup, while cautioning that no decision has been made on whether the U.S. will bid at all.
Speaking at a roundtable of reporters ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Mexico, Gulati said several decisions would have to be made by FIFA before any determination about a bid will be made.
“We won’t make a decision until we know what all rules are,” he said. “Part of those rules are clear. There were four or five important decisions that were made at the last FIFA Council meeting, and another one or two or three in January, the more critical for us being the size of the competition and the format of the competition along with the rules of bidding. We will then make a decision. Obviously we have had preliminary discussions.
In another roundtable last summer, Gulati said that world’s perception of the U.S. is affected by who is in the White House and would have some bearing on getting the hosting rights, especially if the World Cup were co-hosted with another country.
Gulati said last year: “I think a co-hosted World Cup with Mexico would be trickier if Secretary [Hillary] Clinton isn’t in the White House.”
But on Friday, Gulati insisted the USSF would work with “whoever is in the White House.”
“A bid, if it should happen, relies critically on cooperation with government in a number of areas, and we look forward to working with the president-elect,” he said. “He’s an avid sports fan.”
In 2010, former President Bill Clinton helped U.S. Soccer chief Sunil Gulati, right, in bidding for the 2022 World Cup.
If the USSF does decide to bid for the World Cup, Gulati said three scenarios are on the table: hosting the tournament by itself, co-hosting with one country or co-hosting with multiple countries. He later added that informal discussion had taken place with Mexico and Canada.
“We have some very different opinions within even our own board about that, about the feasibility, the desirability or need for joint bid,” he said. “Part of that discussion has to encompass what the format of the tournament is.
“What I mean by that is two very important things happen with the format of the tournament. One is the number of games may change, and clearly the format may change. But also the qualification changes, and number of hosts that are automatic participants and so on. All those things come into play.”
As for his personal preference, Gulati said he was open to either a joint bid or the U.S. bidding on its own and that he is “listening at this point.”
Gulati and the USSF have longstanding ties to former President Bill Clinton and others who were part of his administration. Clinton later aided the USSF’s effort to secure the 2022 World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar in 2010, and Donna Shalala, the former United States secretary of Health and Human Services, sits on the USSF’s board of directors.
But Gulati said he didn’t expect any negative repercussions from those ties after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the election on Tuesday.
“We’ll develop those relationships,” Gulati said. “In the White House today and in the White House on [Jan. 21], there will be people in the building who love the game. That’s true in every statehouse across the country. That’s different than 20 years ago, or in 1988 when we were bidding [for the 1994 World Cup].
“I can name the people in the White House who are huge fans and tweet about it, come to our games, that write about it, wish us good luck for today. That will be true in any administration for the foreseeable future.”