U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati says the travel and immigration ban imposed by President Donald Trump is not "consistent with a lot of American values" and it's too early to tell how it could impact a potential bid on the 2026 World Cup in a wide-ranging interview with SI's Grant Wahl on the Planet Futbol Podcast.
A number of American soccer players (including Michael Bradley, Becky Sauerbrunn and Geoff Cameron, among others) have voiced their opinion on the executive order, which restricts travel and immigration to people from seven Muslim-majority countries, since it was signed. Gulati, who is mulling a potential World Cup hosting bid that could be impacted by Trump's order, offered his thoughts.
“I don’t think the executive order that has been issued is consistent with a lot of American values. There’s two images when you think about New York that maybe come into play for people here, and they’re both downtown around New York harbor. One is the memorial from 9/11, which still is in a lot of people’s minds and raises security concerns where it’s not a question of whether they’re rational or less rational, but those are concerns for people. So security is obviously something that’s very important to us.
"Obviously, the other major image is that poem on the Statue of Liberty. I think while there’s always a balance between those things, everything America stands for in terms of openness, in terms of being welcoming, is challenged by such an executive order. It’s going to be challenged and has been challenged successfully already in courts. And my guess is you’re going to see modifications in that. So it doesn’t represent what I believe is the best of us. My guess is some years from now a lot of people will look back at this and say we shouldn’t have done that.”
Gulati says he's unclear on how the order and its potential reciprocity from other countries will impact U.S. Soccer and players in American leagues, given that the parameters could be altered.
“I think it’s too early to know that. But hopefully the executive order will either be modified or we’ve talked about a 90-day period and we’ll get back if not sooner to the values we have. I think the bigger issue is what it says about the country in the eyes of other people. There are two things. One is the short-term effects of movement of people and so on, and the protests you’re seeing … And two is how people then view the United States. What I mean by that is some countries may turn around and say we’ll have an equal sort of policy now on your visitors to our country. That’s one issue. That’s the short-term implications. The longer one is how it changes the view of people of the United States as a world leader in these areas, as an open country, as an example, a shining light if you will. That’s certainly a concern. What I’m certainly hoping is the short-term nature of this or possible modification or reversal or elimination will help us to dampen those long-term views.”
As for how a potential bid to host the 2026 World Cup–including a joint bid with Mexico–could be impacted by the Trump Administration, Gulati says it's also too early to tell.
“It’s very early days," Gulati said. "The process is not scheduled to start until later this year with a decision in 2020. That’s a long way off if the process is maintained on that timetable. Clearly when people are voting for something like this, it’s not only about the technical specifics of a bid. It’s about what people think of the bid, what people think of your hospitality, what people think of the country, what people think about for politics, all those things. We don’t control all those things. So we’ll do everything we can if we decide to bid and if we decide to bid with others, to put our best foot forward, to show what the U.S. is capable of doing.
“We’re still discussing [the possibility of a joint bid with Mexico/Canada]. We’ll have another board call [this] week to discuss that in part. So we’re still in a situation where we’re analyzing everything that’s going on in the world, in the soccer world and outside the soccer world, before we make a decision. And we’re still open to a number of possibilities.”
Listen to the full interview with Gulati in the podcast above and subscribe to Wahl's weekly interviews via iTunes here.