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Sunil Gulati considering supporting SUM Kathy Carter for U.S. Soccer President

Gulati may not run, but his hand picked successor is less than ideal.

Soccerex Global Convention 2016 Day 1 Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images for Soccerex

As the December 12 deadline looms for candidates to seek nominations for U.S. Soccer Federation President, there has been a surprising amount of silence coming from Sunil Gulati. The sitting USSF President has been heavily criticized after the United States Men’s National Team failed to reach the World Cup and, while its been expected that he would still run, so far Gulati hasn’t officially announced he would seek re-election. It now seems like there may be a reason for that. Grant Wahl is reporting a rumor that Gulati is thinking of ending his tenure as USSF President, but he has an idea for a candidate to support.

Putting aside Carter’s ability to run the federation, picking the President of SUM looks fairly problematic on first glance. There is the obvious risk of conflict of interest and regulatory capture. One way that SUM makes money is by selling the marketing rights for the Men’s and Women’s National Teams and having the former president of the company running USSF would be problematic to say the least. The lawsuit brought against the federation by NASL illustrates this. While the league might not be able to prove it in court, their argument that the federation, SUM, and MLS have interests so neatly intertwined raise questions about whether the would-be former president of SUM would be making decisions in the interests of that relationship or following what would be best for soccer in the country.

The conflict of interest topic also points to issues of transparency that come along with those conflicts. For example, last year the U.S. Senate requested that SUM provide documentation breaking down the revenue generated by the MNT and WNT during the WNT’s pay dispute with the federation. SUM is obviously a private company and is under no obligation to publicly release details of how it is run or where it draws revenue from. However, the most information that has come out about the company came thanks to the lawsuit filed against USSF by the NASL. There is an obvious need for the federation to be run transparently and someone from the private sector may not hold those values as deeply as would be needed to ensure that the federation is run in a more open manner.

The aforementioned request from the U.S. Senate also points to the issue of gender equity in the national teams and the role of SUM in treating the WNT as second class players. Sunil Gulati’s contention throughout the equal play for equal pay dispute was that the women deserved less money because, as employees of a non-profit, their pay should be determined by revenue. Although SUM was not party to those negotiations, the organization generates a huge amount of revenue from the sale of WNT marketing and television rights. That revenue goes to the pockets of MLS owners while the women who make it possible are told that it isn’t enough to justify paying them the same as the male players who can’t qualify for the World Cup.

As the USSF presidential race continues to take shape, the platforms of the candidates have established several categories of candidates. Paul Caligiuri, Paul Lapointe, Steve Gans, Michael Winograd, Eric Wynalda, and Kyle Martino have been voices loudly calling for change on a variety of issues with various plans to make it possible. Within that there are degrees of commitment to implementing promotion and relegation, expanding diversity, making equality between the WNT and MNT a reality, and changing the youth set-up in the U.S. Those candidates have taken parts in forums, given lengthy interviews and are traveling the country to meet with stakeholders about their platforms.

On the other side, there is Sunil Gulati who hasn’t given public indication of his plans to run or not and though he says he’s taking responsibility for the USMNT missing the World Cup, doesn’t think that the failure to do so should disqualify him from running the federation.

Then, there is Carlos Cordeiro, who has 16 tweets and basically hasn’t been heard from at all since announcing his candidacy on November 2nd outside of a couple of interviews. He hasn’t participated in any of the forums and his absence is noticeable compared to the public appearances and engagement from the others who are running. So far, the forums and other public events with the candidates mentioned above have been very critical of the USSF. Cordeiro appearing at these events would starkly contrast his positions, which are cast as being reform oriented, as light changes in a broken system rather than advocating for change that is needed and that the federation is unable to provide with its current leadership.

Kathy Carter hasn’t announced she is running and obviously doesn’t have a platform, but it is fair to assume that she would be among the silent insiders looking to protect the status quo, and possibly the revenue of a billion dollar company that has its interests above that of what is best for soccer in the U.S., rather than bring about the difficult changes needed to improve soccer in this country.