U.S. soccer chief Sunil Gulati says travel ban may not affect 2026 World Cup bid

Sunil Gulati
President of the U.S. Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati

The Indian-American head of the U.S. Soccer Federation says President Trumps temporary travel ban on 7 Muslim-majority countries listed as prone to terrorism by the Obama administration, would not impede American’s bid to hold the World Cup in 2026.

Sunil Gulati, president of USSF, said it was “too early” to predict whether the temporary ban on 7 countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, currently on hold pending an Appeals Court ruling, would negatively affect the Federation’s push for the World Cup.

Members of the U.S. soccer team are divided on the ruling, but Gulati, speaking to Planet Futbol Podcast, on Feb. 7, in an hour-long interview available on the Web, said “I don’t think the executive order that has been issued is consistent with a lot of American values,” and “Sports obviously involves international movement and free movement of players, of ideas.”

But Gulati cast an optimistic eye on the potential impact of the temporary ban. “I think it’s too early to know that,” he said, adding, “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.”

At the same time, the ban has much wider implications than just how America may be perceived by others if it is put in place, Gulati said. As a New Yorker who teaches Economics 101 and Sports Economics at Columbia University, Gulati invoked powerful images of the U.S. as a nation that welcomes immigrants and yet has immense national security concerns.

The messages from the 9/11 memorial and the Statue of Liberty are two sides of the coin that face the American people, he implied. The ban is being challenged in courts, he noted, “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.”

The order may however have short and long-term implications for international soccer, he said.

In the short term, “some countries may turn around and say we’ll have an equal sort of policy now on your visitors to our country,” he said. “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.”

Gulati, 57, was born in Allahabad and studied at Bucknell University and Columbia University. He has been president of the U.S. Soccer Federation since 2006, and vice president of the International Football Federation (FIFA) since 2016.