Indian-American voted into U.S. Soccer Hall Of Fame in historic first

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Indian-Americans scored a historic first with the induction of one of their own into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. Sunil Gulati, an economics professor at Columbia University and possibly the only Indian-American to be inducted to any sports hall of fame, told Desi Talk he is proud to be representing the community.

“It’s an honor to be inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame and to join so many others who have contributed to the growth of the game,” Gulati told Desi Talk in an email response, adding, “I’m proud to represent the Indian-American community in soccer and sports more generally.”

Sunil Gulati, former president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, is among the people nominated for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. (Photo: courtesy Gulati Twitter account)

This Saturday, May 25, Gulati was informed his name was in the distinguished list and that he would be formally inducted this September, the Associated Press reported. He was nominated this March for the ‘Builder’ category hall of famers, and was among a slew of candidates in several categories.

According to mlssoccer.com, Hall of Fame inductees are voted on by former coaches and media that covers the game. Each voter can select up to 10 candidates. Those getting at least 66.7 percent of the vote get selected and are inducted into the Hall of Fame, a ceremony slated to be held this year on Sept. 21-22 in Frisco, Texas.

Sunil Gulati watching a game from the sidelines. (Photo courtesy Sunil Gulati)

Gulati, who in previous responses to Desi Talk, spoke of his memorable years as President before he resigned in 2018 after 12 years in the top slot, was elected in the ‘Builder’ category, an apt choice by U.S. Soccer, because the 59 year old Indian-American has spent most of his life with the ‘Beautiful Game.’ Gulati had not responded to an interview request as this went to press

“… he was a major figure in the return of the U.S. to the World Cup in 1990 following a 40-year absence, the local organizing committee that hosted the 1994 World Cup and the launch of Major League Soccer in 1996,” the Associated Press report noted.

The first Indian-American to hold the position of president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Gulati was succeeded by another Indian-American, Carlos Cordiero.

Today, apart from continuing as a U.S. Soccer Federation official and first-division league official, since 2013, he has been an Executive Committee member of the international football organization, FIFA. He is also a professor at Columbia University.

It is doubtful if there has been anyone serving longer than Gulati in U.S. Soccer. He was a USSF Committee Chairman in the 1980s, Executive Vice President of the 1994 World Cup Organizing Committee, Deputy Commissioner of Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999 and Executive Vice President of the USSF from 2000 to 2006.

In an interview with this writer on Feb. 5, 2018, just five days before stepping down as president of USSF, Gulati said he considered soccer his passion from childhood, cutting his teeth on this game since elementary school in Connecticut, the home of the mad-about-soccer University of Connecticut Huskies. Later spending time in the United Kingdom during his teens, strengthened his passion for the game. Gulati is the Michael K. Dakolias Senior Lecturer in Economics at Columbia University where he teaches development economics, international trade and sports economics.

In the February 2018 interview with Desi Talk, Gulati reminisced about his 12 years as head of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Sunil Gulati with former President Bill Clinton and late South African leader Nelson Mandela in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup. (Photo courtesy Sunil Gulati)

His “most incredible 24 hours” were when the iconic goal was scored by  Landon Donovan in the last minutes of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, June 23, when the American soccer team beat Algeria 1-0 to win the top spot in Group C, and the crowd went wild; then followed an equally if not more, memorable meeting with Nelson Mandela, Gulati recalled. , Credited with being possibly the most important man for building “The Beautiful Game” in the United States, Gulati said at that time, “I am focusing right now heavily to bring the World Cup here in 2026.”

Other signature moments in his 12 years, Gulati remembered, were when Abby Wambach scored the “almost impossible” goal for U.S. women’s soccer in 2011 against Brazil at the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinals. He also remembered 1989, when America qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.

 

 

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