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US Soccer chief (an economist) wants big changes

The top soccer official in the United States wants to change the way the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA), soccer's world governing body, does business.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati also holds a seat on FIFA's all-important executive committee. He believes all of FIFA's future votes should be out in the open. In a wide-ranging interview on CNBC at the New York Stock Exchange last week, just hours after he returned from Brazil, Gulati said, "the rules should be tightened up."

Future Cups and controversy

FIFA President Joseph S Blatter presents Qatar for the host of 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Getty Images
FIFA President Joseph S Blatter presents Qatar for the host of 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The next two World Cups are already embroiled in controversy and accusations of corruption. That includes the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament, which has been awarded to Qatar. Gulati's bid from the United States came in second to Qatar's winning bid.

That troubles U.S. soccer officials for many reasons, as well as some of FIFA's top officials, who are concerned that the heat in Qatar will be too dangerous for players, officials and fans alike. The average highs between May and September, when the tournament would likely be held, are between 99 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit (33 Celsius to 41 Celsius).

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The 2022 World Cup is already mired in allegations of corruption and accusations of slave labor. Investigations have begun to find out if Qatari officials and business leaders bribed voting members of FIFA in order to bring the matches to Qatar.

Construction of stadiums for the matches in the Middle Eastern nation of just 2.1 million people—most of whom are migrant workers—is well underway amid reports that more than 1,000 laborers have died in the desert heat as they begin to build the country's soccer infrastructure. (Qatar said this week that it hasintroduced reforms to protect workers from the heat and to ensure that they're paid.)

Sources inside the U.S. Soccer Federation would not go as far as calling FIFA and Qatar corrupt but say they remain disappointed that they did not win the sweepstakes for the 2022 World Cup.

Gulati, who also teaches economics at Columbia University, said, "The U.S. is ready to host the tournament tomorrow. Our infrastructure for a tournament this size is in place."

The next challenge for US Soccer

Jermaine Jones of the U.S. celebrates with Alejandro Bedoya (11), Matt Besler (5) and DaMarcus Beasley after scoring a goal during the 2014 World Cup G soccer against Portugal at the Amazonia arena in Manaus, Brazil.
Siphiwe Sibeko | Reuters
Jermaine Jones of the U.S. celebrates with Alejandro Bedoya (11), Matt Besler (5) and DaMarcus Beasley after scoring a goal during the 2014 World Cup G soccer against Portugal at the Amazonia arena in Manaus, Brazil.
"Over time we'll get the success we're looking for." -Sunil Gulati, US Soccer Federation president

As far as the results for the men's national team in 2014, Gulati is proud of his team's performance. He is credited with bringing in former German star-turned-coach Jurgen Klinsmann to lead team USA. Klinsmann led Germany to a third-place finish in 2006 as coach, and he won the cup as a player in 1990 against Argentina.

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The U.S. won't be waiting three years, 11 months before its next major tournament. The Gold Cup begins next year, and the Copa America is set to take place on home soil in 2016. Gulati is set to meet Klinsmann on Wednesday in Los Angeles to start planning for those tournaments and for the next round of qualification matches for the 2018 World Cup.

"Over time, we'll get the success we're looking for," Gulati said.

Gulati: The economist

When asked by a trader on the floor on the New York Stock Exchange about this year's performance at the World Cup, like a true economist Gulati drew an imaginary line in the air with his hand and said, "We're on a steady, upward trend."

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