After the U.S. bowed out of the 2006 World Cup in an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Ghana, I complained about the lack of top-down influence on the U.S. men’s national team to anyone who would listen (very few people). I also thought that Landon Donovan, after finishing the tournament with no goals and precious few shots, should not be allowed back into the country — but all is forgiven now, Landycakes!
After all, Ghana is not exactly a world superpower. Their population is not one tenth of ours. Their GDP is not a third of one percent of ours. If they are humbling our country on the world’s biggest sporting stage, it’s because our leaders are allowing it to happen. There are enough pure athletes in our country to find 11 world-class soccer players among them, I thought, and if no one else will bother to find them the president himself should take responsibility, by creating a Soccer Czar if need be.
That makes tomorrow’s rematch with Ghana in the second round all the exciting: are we still too apathetic and disorganized to compete in the world’s game, or can we avenge our 2006 loss?
Here’s something I didn’t realize in ’06: some countries really do have soccer czars. Not just the Chinas of the world, either, but free and soccer-crazed countries. For instance, while reading this New York Times article about France’s World Cup experience devolving into nation-wide racial discord (really), I was surprised to learn that France has a “Sports Minister” and a “junior sports minister,” both of whom Sarkozy called on the carpet and ordered “to rapidly learn the lessons of this disaster” after France’s ignominious World Cup exit.
Is the French national team better off for having these ministers? Or are they just heads for Sarkozy to roll when things go south?
Something else I didn’t realize in ’06: the U.S. actually has a pseudo-Soccer Czar. Under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, U.S. Soccer is the official body for overseeing amateur soccer and the national teams. And, via Tyler Cowen, it has an honest-to-God technocrat at the helm.
Sunil Gulati has been the president of U.S. Soccer since 2006. Here’s part of his bio:
Gulati graduated Magna Cum Laude from Bucknell University and earned his M.A. and M. Phil. in Economics at Columbia University. He served on the Columbia Economics Faculty from 1986 to1990 before joining the World Bank through its Young Professionals Program in 1991 and serving as country economist for the emerging country of Moldova.
As far as I can tell, though, neither Congress nor the president can influence Gulati or U.S. Soccer. It’s a private entity with government recognition.
So here’s how we show up the rest of the world, America-style: we win games, maybe even the World Cup. We do it in racial harmony. And we do it without a Sports Minister, junior sports minister, or any other Big Brother-type influence other than our now-beloved Gulati directing things.