By Paul Nicholson
February 12 – Sunil Gulati may now have left the presidency of the US Soccer Federation but he leaves behind one huge legacy issue in the shape of training compensation for youth players and whether the US is going to abide by FIFA rules and conventions or go it alone and continue to refuse the training payment solidarity principles.
It will be an early test of new president Carlos Cordeiro’s grasp of the real issues he has within his federation at grassroots and how far he is prepared to support the sport at that level.
Gulati stood accused of intervening domestically and at FIFA to have at least one claim for club training compensation postponed by FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC). The highest profile case is that of Oregon-based youth club Westside Timbers (linked to MLS side Portland Timbers), who are chasing more than $320,000 in training compensation from FC Utrecht related to Rubio Rubin, who signed his first professional contract with the Dutch club. The Rubin case was filed at FIFA’s DRC in August 2016.
Speaking at the US Youth Soccer Awards dinner at the end of January, Gulati turned the argument round saying that the reason for opposing the compensation was in fact to protect youth clubs being sued by the player’s association. “We’ve spent a lot of money with a lot of lawyers. We have no issue with it except the players have an issue with it, and the players’ association (MLSPU) has made it very clear that if the youth clubs seek redress that they will sue the youth clubs,” he said.
His comments sparked a rapid response from Cory Roth, the criminal law specialist acting for Westside Timbers, who pointed out that Gulati by his own omission said that the USSF is violating the FIFA rules on training compensation and solidarity by preventing clubs worldwide from paying fees to American youth clubs. Further, it would not violate American law to enforce the rules.
Roth says the youth clubs have not asked for protection from the USSF and asks who the USSF is really trying to protect. He says the youth clubs have only asked for help getting their compensation.
“Instead, we have 12-years-worth of documented threats of retaliation against youth clubs who have tried to seek payment of developmental fees; we have years of obstruction in the form of false promises, useless meetings, and red-herring arguments to delay youth clubs from seeking these funds; and, most recently, we have the Federation interfering with our claims pending at the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber,” he said.
Roth says that if the MLSPU decide to sue then that is their issue but they have been aware for more than three years, as has the MLS and the USSF, of the “numerous” petitions at the DRC, yet they have taken no action.
“Gulati, on behalf of the Federation, has admitted that USSF would not violate any laws by allowing clubs all over the world to pay training compensation and solidarity fees to American youth clubs. Yet, the Federation done everything possible to protect MLS, its players, and their monopoly over US soccer in blocking payment of these fees to the US youth clubs by the MLS and foreign soccer clubs,” said Roth.
“Gulati has neither led nor gotten out of the way on this issue. His clear favoritism and intentional delay of the resolution have harmed dozens of youth clubs and thousands of youth players – boys and girls – across the country who have not had access in the pay-to-play model. It is unacceptable that the USSF has gotten to this point and this is an embarrassment to American soccer.”
Gulati is no longer the man in charge of the USSF but it remains to be seen how far he uses his considerable influence at FIFA to continue to encourage the world governing body to stall on implementing its own rules.
US youth and club soccer will also see the colour of Cordeiro’s grassroots credentials on this issue.
It is somewhat ironic in the country that vilified and brought to justice a cabal of FIFA’s thieving elected representatives, with US Department of Justice prosecutors and even the presiding judge repeatedly taking the moral high ground that they were starving youth soccer worldwide of much needed funding for pitches and equipment, in their own country they have a governing body that in this instance seems to be doing just that.
Roth filed a criminal complaint with US Department of Justice asking them to investigate the case when Gulati was in charge. Will he be filing another now that former Goldman Sachs banker Cordeiro has taken over? That would be a tricky and somewhat embarrassing opening for him in world football’s eyes with the US keen to host the 2026 World Cup and as the country’s law enforcers continue their crusade to clean the game’s global administrators up.
For his part Roth is not stepping back. “We are considering all legal options for our client both in the FIFA DRC and domestic courts. I will be calling our case manager at FIFA on Monday to determine when we will be put back on the docket considering Gulati allegedly told FIFA that one reason he wanted to case taken off the docket was so that the issue will not interfere with the USSF presidential election,” he said.
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