FIFA’s Search for an Independent Investigative Expert into U.S. Soccer

Andy Scholes walks through US Soccer’s landmark equal pay deal that has changed the landscape of professional sports. (1:06)

When FIFA, the world soccer’s ruling body, came calling at the start of 2018, its search for an independent investigator into corruption-marred U.S. soccer seemed like a promising start. That would be the start of a search through a vast, complex and often-hidden history, where the soccer world’s leading authorities had long since closed ranks behind a single cause: to find the names of those who had illegally profited from their participation in top international competition.

FIFA also wanted the U.S. Soccer Federation, the governing body of American soccer, to join the investigation, which would then be overseen by a U.S. prosecutor. But on the day of that announcement, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was on hand in New York to address United States members of the FIFA Council, and that meeting was followed by a brief conference call with the United States Soccer Federation, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to ESPN’s Grant stevens and would only speak anonymously to present Gulati’s version of events.

FIFA’s investigators and their allies, however, had other ideas when it came to the country’s most popular sports.

Gulati told reporters the day after the New York meeting, “I certainly don’t see this as anti-American.”

“Why is the U.S. part of your investigation looking into soccer?” one reporter asked, with Gulati noting that FIFA wanted to get to the bottom of corruption, “not anti-U.S. soccer.”

Even that was not the right answer, since FIFA’s ultimate goal is to “clean the game” and get to the bottom of corruption, and the U.S. is the world’s biggest sports market.

Yet Gulati later backtracked. He told reporters in October it was “not the time and place” to discuss anything related to U.S. Soccer’s football program, only to say weeks later it is “an ongoing

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