Rules of the Game

by Paul Hond
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For the USSF, 2010 is a critical year. There’s the tournament in South Africa, of course, where the Stars and Stripes hope to improve on 2002’s quarter-final finish in Japan and Korea. But Gulati’s big goal businesswise is to bring the World Cup stateside in 2018 or 2022 — a potential economic bonanza for which the bullish professor estimates $1 billion in ticket revenues.

In mid-May, Gulati went to the Zurich headquarters of FIFA (the world governing body of football) and delivered the U.S. bid. For the Cup to come to the States, 13 members of the 24-strong committee must be swayed by an exceptional American offer that includes 18 proposed cities, soccer-specific stadiums, 5 million tickets available, a ready infrastructure, and no need of public funds. The committee will announce its decision on December 2.

Meanwhile, Gulati continues to work on expanding the game in America. “We’ve got to make sure we’re reaching out to all pockets of the population,” he said recently in his office in the International Affairs Building. “It’s going to take time, but as the league gets better, and there are more role models, and the returns to being a professional soccer player improve — those are pieces to the puzzle.”

His office contains a treasure of soccer memorabilia, including a large photo of the U.S. team in 1994. Above this, a television is tuned to CNBC. (Idea for Gulati bio title: Kickers and Tickers.) Behind Gulati’s desk hangs a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. standing beside a portrait of Gandhi, and high on the wall above the bookshelves is a row of photos of children on the streets of Mexico.

“At a sporting event in a poor country,” Gulati told the class, “there are a lot of kids hawking stuff around the stadium.”

The ’86 Cup opened with Mexico versus Bulgaria, and Gulati and his journalist friend had extra tickets for the match in Mexico City. They approached a small boy and handed him a $50 ticket. There was an awkward moment. The boy looked confused, and Gulati couldn’t understand his words. Then the journalist’s driver stepped in.

“The driver says: ‘He wants to know what you expect in return.’” Gulati’s voice dropped just above a whisper. “Wow. He wants to know what you expect in return.”

Gulati, whose wife is from Mexico, then revealed that the pictures he had shown earlier were of the kids outside the stadium.

“Except,” he said, “I interspersed them with pictures of my own kids.”

As the class pondered the meaning of that, Rawls’s veil shook a little more, and Gulati brought things closer to home.

Twenty-five years ago, he was walking near campus late at night when he saw a woman begging.

“The U.S. president at the time,” Gulati said, “made an assumption, essentially, that she was there by choice.” He paused. “I’m pretty darn sure that the nine- or eight- or seven-year-old kid standing next to her at midnight on a Thursday while she was playing an instrument and trying to ask for money was not there by choice.

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