7 June ~ A huge thank you is in order to Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, for saying what other football administrators merely think. "I don't think taking the moral high ground is the right thing to do," he told ESPN on Saturday during the half-time interval of the US-Spain friendly in Boston. The question? Why did he not uphold what ESPN panellist Alexi Lalas had termed "American values of fairness and honesty" and vote against Sepp Blatter in last week's FIFA presidential election?
It's only fair to provide more context, but that context doesn't make Gulati look anything more than a gutless bureaucrat with the rhetorical cogency of a stammering boy caught playing pocket billiards in church by the Mother Superior. "We didn't think it made sense to abstain," said Gulati, "and we decided to vote for president Blatter." President Blatter? Let's just call him His Excellency and be done with it.
"We support a lot of reforms," Gulati continued, "even beyond where he's willing to go right now, and we thought that was the best way to move forward." Yes, Sepp Blatter, who has done a brilliant job clearing out corruption in world football over his first 13 years in office, is just the man FIFA needs for self-reform. Gulati maintained the US "will do everything we can to influence" reform "across a number of different areas", including corruption and governance issues. Even by the standards of a fawning, third-rate functionary like Gulati, that's vague. Blatter, he said, has pledged "to try and do some things that are different". Indeed, Blatter has always been a man of his word, a gargantuan embodiment of integrity guaranteed to stand by his bronze-forged promises.
And then, Gulati's crowning moment: "Abstention in this case doesn't do anything, it doesn't send a message. You take the moral high ground, it's fine unless you're standing on quicksand." That's the key metaphor – quicksand. And that's why so few nations joined England and Scotland in abstaining from Blatter's depressingly inevitable re-election. Pragmatic self-interest, you might argue. The alternative is to vote against the autocrat in a one-man election, and then we sink without trace. Or, put more bluntly, we think we'd scupper US chances in a possible revote on the 2022 World Cup hosting rights.
Paradoxically, it must have taken a lot of courage for Gulati to go on national TV and admit that he's a moral coward. Not that we should be surprised, as he's also voted in past years for the continued, unopposed re-election of proven FIFA ethics violator Jack Warner as head of Concacaf, the North and Central American football confederation. This is, after all, how world football is governed – by nothing more than the fear of losing FIFA favours because you incurred the wrath of the strong men.
Gulati's shabby interview was perfectly mirrored by the spineless performance of the US team that lost 4-0 to Spain. Like the US, his defence was weak, he had no ideas going forward and his overall showing was stale and uninspired. His shameless, mealy-mouthed amoralism was a perfect illustration of why neither he nor Blatter, nor the vast majority of their colleagues, should be there to oversee reform or revolution at FIFA. Instead, they should make the strong moral choice and step out for a walk to test the quicksand. Ian Plenderleith