Sunil Gulati: U.S. Soccer will vote for Prince Ali in FIFA election
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the federation will cast its vote for Prince Ali bin al-Hussein in Friday's FIFA presidential election.
Gulati said he participated in interviews with three of the presidential candidates and noted the federation decided to back Prince Ali instead of incumbent president Sepp Blatter based on his commitment to reform FIFA from the inside.
“We’re going to be voting for him tomorrow,” Gulati said during a conference call from Zurich early Friday. “I have gotten to know Prince Ali over the past couple of years. He’s a very active member of the Executive Committee and he is an active proponent of reform at FIFA. He is a successful president at the Jordanian FA. We have supported a number of initiatives he has led, whether it is in women’s rights or in development work. But it really starts with his views on governance and reform.”
The decision to part ways with Blatter reflects a change in position within U.S. Soccer — the federation voted for Blatter in the previous four elections — and underscores the desire to enact change after the indictment of 14 soccer executives and marketing officials Wednesday.
Whether those events will prove enough to persuade the 209 federations to elect Prince Ali is uncertain. Blatter retains the public backing of the Asian Football Confederation and the Confederation of African Football. The incumbent president also has many CONCACAF nations among his supporters, though Gulati noted the Canadian Soccer Association also will vote for Prince Ali. Football Federation Australia Chairman Frank Lowy announced he planned to vote for Prince Ali, and Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations, estimated at least 45 UEFA members may vote for Prince Ali.
Gulati said he believes the events of the past few days will lead to a more competitive election than anticipated. A two-thirds majority is needed for election on the first ballot and a simple majority on the second.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting election tomorrow,” Gulati said. “What’s happening on the ground here is certainly different than what may be perceived from outside. However, it’s an election. It’s a secret ballot. The last time I was involved in a secret ballot in Zurich, we know what the outcome was. You know the people that are voting and they know you. Unlike a  poll where you’re sampling the people you don’t know, it’s impossible to know for sure. But, yes, I think tomorrow will be a competitive election.”
The outcome of the election and the actions of the U.S. Attorney General’s office may also influence U.S. Soccer’s standing within FIFA as it weighs the possibility of bidding for a future World Cup.
FIFA said it plans to hold the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar as scheduled, but the governing body is expected to start the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup later this year.
“Would we like to host a future World Cup? The answer is of course, yes,” Gulati said. “But for me and for U.S. Soccer, especially at this time but at any time, having CONCACAF and FIFA govern and manage with integrity is far more important than hosting the World Cup or any other event. That’s our focus.”
Gulati declined to answer questions about the ongoing investigation by American and Swiss law enforcement, while he said it was too early to tell the impact of the indictments on the future of Copa Centenario scheduled to be held in the United States next summer.
Elected in 1998, Blatter is seeking a fifth term. His reign has been plagued by corruption among top soccer officials, but he has not been implicated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.