COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sunil Gulati has been in charge of US Soccer for more than a decade of dramatic growth, and presently has no clear challengers for his post in the election that will take place in early 2018.
But he's leading a process that, if successful, could push him out of the office before the 2022 World Cup is played.
Gulati revealed that the federation is set to consider a package that he calls “a complete revision of our bylaws” for next year. The most prominent feature: The institution of term limits for USSF board members to restrict individuals' service to no longer than 12 years (three four-year terms).
“A lot of things that happened in CONCACAF and FIFA the last couple of years and previously, I think some of those would have been different with term limits,” Gulati told a roundtable of reporters on Friday afternoon. “I don't mean some of the illegal actions, necessarily, but when there aren't term limits … people want to elect you, great, you can go forever and that's fine. The other is, it's such a big advantage to be an incumbent that you can get [re-]elected.
“We [USSF] don't have term limits [but] we've had 45 presidents in 100 years, something like that. FIFA's had eight,” he added. “I think decision making gets altered when you're constantly worrying about elections. … For me, probably now, because of that experience, it's something I've been looking at. Not just for the president, but for the entire board.”
Gulati said the bylaws proposal has taken 18 months to construct, and would also include new independent committees and other new features to fed governance. The hope is that the board will adopt it next year, in time for it to take effect by the 2018 elections. He said he has not decided whether he will run for re-election at that time, but if he did, and won, the new rules would require him to step down in 2022.
Gulati also gave a measured perspective on the status of the internal reform process at FIFA and CONCACAF. Both organizations have been wracked by scandal, much of it uncovered by an ongoing investigation of the US Justice Department that has led to indictments for dozens of high-ranking soccer officials in multiple countries.
“I'm pleased with the reforms that have been put into place. I think they could've gone further in both cases, but the implementation I think has gone pretty well,” said Gulati. “CONCACAF is moving much more quickly because it's a smaller ship to try to steer. And in some ways a much bigger shock to the system in terms of what happened.”
Gulati said that he and others had unsuccessfully pushed for fully independent directors in both organizations, a facet of US Soccer's governance that most other federations lack.
“We got halfway there: independent people on committees, including shares of certain committees," said Gulati. "We are one of the very, very few federations in the world – less than five – that have independent directors, far more independent than even the FIFA rules on their committees have. I wish they would've gone for that … there's still a lot of work to be done.”