U.S. Soccer president says indictments of FIFA members were a surprise

Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, says indictments that shook the soccer world came as a surprise to him

Many of the crimes FIFA officials and others were charged with in the 47-count indictment unsealed Wednesday in Brooklyn took place on U.S. soil and involved members of CONCACAF, the regional soccer body of which the U.S. is the largest and most powerful member.

Which raises an interesting question: What did U.S. Soccer know and when did it know it?

According to Sunil Gulati, the federation's president, he first learned CONCACAF representatives were being rounded up and charged when a U.S. Soccer official phoned him and told him to check the news.

"That was very much a surprise," Gulati, a member of FIFA's executive committee, said by phone from Zurich, Switzerland, where the world soccer's ruling organization is holding its annual meeting. "It's been widely written that there was an investigation going on of sorts. We certainly had no expectation of what we learned [Wednesday]."

Asked whether he was questioned regarding the indictments, Gulati declined to answer, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. Also left unanswered, then, is whether U.S. Soccer should have known about alleged crimes committed by CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb and others since they involved tournaments the U.S. played in or was scheduled to play in.

According to the indictment, Webb was one of at least six officials accused of taking bribes totaling about $110 million related to the awarding of broadcast and commercial rights for major regional tournaments, including the Copa America, which was to be played in the U.S. for the first time in 2016.

The officials are also charged with taking money in exchange for awarding Miami-based Traffic Sports USA commercial rights to CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers as well as the Gold Cup and Champions League events.

CONCACAF moved quickly to right its ship in the wake of the indictments, dismissing Webb, also a FIFA vice president, and Costa Rica's Eduardo Li, a member of the executive committees for both CONCACAF and FIFA, after both were indicted.

In their place Gulati, Victor Montagliani, president of the Canadian Soccer Association, and Justino Compean, president of the Mexican soccer federation, have been charged with evaluating and continuing the business operations of CONCACAF, among them running July's Gold Cup tournament, which will go ahead as scheduled.

Less certain is the status of next year's 100th anniversary edition of the Copa America, South America's most prestigious tournament. Officials of CONEMBOL, South America's soccer federation, and some of the marketing executives involved with the tournament, were also among those named in the indictments.

"Given everything that's happened, it's premature to say what the final result on that will be," Gulati said. "Obviously you've got two confederations that are at the heart of one part of what happened yesterday. And the marketing companies are all part of some scenarios in terms of next summer.

"So over the days and weeks to come, we will come very quickly to terms with what the financial status of those companies is, because they are the partners of the event."

Gulati was also asked about the 2026 World Cup. Six weeks ago he boasted to a sports-business conference in Los Angeles "we'll host it. No doubt." But Thursday he wasn't in the mood for predictions, saying much work remains to be done between now and 2026.

"Would we like to host a future World Cup The answer's of course yes," he said. "But for me and for U.S. Soccer — especially at this time, but at any time — having CONCACAF and FIFA governed and managed with integrity is far more important than hosting the World Cup or any other event."


Twitter: @kbaxter11

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World