Sunil Gulati '81
"That six month period, between June 11 and Dec. 2, is as important a time as there's been in American soccer history."
Making soccer history
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati '81 is not prone to hype when he describes his sport's rising popularity. After two decades in soccer's administrative ranks, he talks about the game's expansion in America as a gradual, 50-year project.
But this year, near the midpoint of that half-century span, is a big one: In June, the U.S. men's national team kicked off its appearance in the 2010 World Cup, and in early December, U.S. Soccer will learn the fate of its bid to host a future World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.
"That six month period, between June 11 and Dec. 2, is as important a time as there's been in American soccer history," Gulati says.
He has played a role in several milestones of soccer's growth, including the first World Cup the U.S. hosted, in 1994, and the launch of Major League Soccer. Since 2006, when Gulati was elected president of U.S. Soccer, the men's national team has enjoyed a successful World Cup qualifying run, finishing first in its region.
A career in soccer seemed like an unlikely path for Gulati; the economist never advanced past the junior varsity team at Bucknell. (Playing wasn't his "comparative advantage," he jokes.) He was working for the World Bank in the early 1990s when he decided to take a leave and join the World Cup committee. He never returned to economics full time, but he routinely teaches courses at Columbia, his graduate alma mater, including a popular class on the economics of sports.
In the summer and fall, Gulati will devote most of his energy to bringing the World Cup back to America and showcasing "the world's game" for an even broader audience. The U.S. committee's best pitch may be an economic one: With large, state-of-the-art stadiums, Gulati says,"We'll have the ability to have 5 million tickets sold — more than any other World Cup in history."
Posted July 2010
Updated February 2013 Editor's note: In its original form, this story incorrectly indicated Sunil Gulati held a doctorate in economics. Gulati holds both a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy in economics.