By Jonathan Rest and Catherine Davies at Leaders in Football
Sunil Gulati, who led USA's failed bid to host the 2022 World Cup, and is now a member of the executive committee of Fifa, soccer's international governing body, today called for clearly defined rules in the bidding process to host soccer's top tournament.
When Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, in December 2010, it became clear that Fifa was keen to take the tournament to new markets, which led to a series of complaints from the unsuccessful bidders which claimed that was not the case when the process had started.
Gulati, who was not on the executive committee when the 2022 World Cup was awarded, said today that the US Soccer Federation, of which he is the president, would not consider submitting a bid for the 2026 World Cup until the rules are known.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Leaders in Football summit in London today, Gulati said: "I think the rules should change and be stronger. We need to know what the rules are, and what is the rationale for making decisions, before you get into a contest."
He continued: "Rotation is on the books unofficially, which is that you have to wait for two [World Cups], which is why South America couldn’t bid on 2022 [as Brazil is the host for the 2014 tournament], but that is not in any official document.
"We’ve all heard that there is an interest in 2030 in South America [a joint bid from Uruguay and Argentina] because it would be the 100th anniversary [of the first World Cup]. Okay, but who else is going to be allowed to bid? Or are we going to say 'this is going to be in South America?' That would be useful to know because it affects what people do in 2026 and 2034. If you didn’t have the policy of waiting at least one, that might have affected what Fifa thought about 2022."
Asked explicitly if USA would bid for the 2026 World Cup, Gulati replied: "I’m torn between wanting to start tomorrow and saying ‘never again’. If we do decide to bid for 2026, the rules and procedures must change. They must be clear. Fifa has just announced changes to the way host countries will be chosen [involving all 207 members voting] but that’s a lot of [evaluation] trips."
"If Fifa decides that rotation is the way forward, going to ‘new lands’ - provided they can meet all the conditions within the stipulated time, then that’s fine - we won’t bother to bid. But if they decide that what really matters in the bidding is the quality of the technical reports, then we will think seriously about 2026.
"We will wait to see what the rules of engagement are in terms of bidding before we make the decision."
Gulati said "the right decision" was made last week by the Fifa executive committee to set up a task force to look at a possible switch to winter for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. A decision on exactly when to play the tournament is expected in the next 18 months.
Asked whether, three years after the 2022 World Cup was awarded, it should already be known when the tournament will be played, Gulati replied: "Well alternatively you can look at it that nine years before, which is longer than any World Cup has been awarded, you don’t know the exact dates. Now we are saying in the next 12 to 18 months a decision will be made over the best time to play that World Cup. So it will still be made seven or eight years before the World Cup is played, which is the same sort of timetable as usual."
He added: "If Fifa hadn’t run two World Cups together at the same time, we wouldn’t be talking about 2022. We wouldn’t know where it would be played right now. So there would be that uncertainty also."
Greg Dyke, chairman of English soccer's Football Association, told delegates at the Leaders summit today that "what is certain is that tournament will not be held in Qatar in the summer, and we should all welcome that."
However, Gulati said there was no such guarantee that the tournament will definitely be moved from the traditional months of June and July, when the temperature in Qatar can reach 50 degrees Celsius.
He explained: "There is no pre-existing agreement or consensus on the outcome of what will be an important review [conducted by the task force]. Everyone knows what the weather will be like in the summer [in Qatar] but there are a whole series of issues, such as commercial agreements and schedules of leagues."
Much of the talk about playing the 2022 World Cup in the winter is the impact the switch would have on Europe's elite leagues, but Decio De Maria, president of Mexican soccer's Liga MX, argued today that the issue is a global one.
He said: "It will be very tough for us. We have two tournaments every year - the Apertura and the Clausura. We have playoffs in November and December. A winter World Cup will affect the way we are structured. I hope our voice will be heard. It’s embedded in our way of thinking: summer is for national teams; fall, winter and spring are for club competitions.”
"It’s a huge issue for the Liga MX. It’s not just a question of how it will affect the EPL [English Premier League], the Bundesliga - it’s leagues all around the world."