Argentina threat to pull out of Copa America Centenario is withdrawn

By Samindra Kunti

June 1 – Argentina will be playing in the Copa Centenario this month after the federation withdrew a threat that it will pull its team out in protest against government intervention in the running of the country’s football association. Argentina FA (AFA) president Luis Segura, speaking in Buenos Aires, said that the team would remain in its California training base and would not be flying home.

The AFA is under investigation over financial irregularities, in particular surrounding broadcast revenues. The Argentine government, led by president Mauricio Macri, has suspended AFA’s presidential elections due to take place end of June until October 6.

This prompted wildfire speculation that the national team was about to be withdrawn from the centenary Copa America.  Managed by Gerard Martino, Argentina are one of the strong favorites to win the 2016 Copa America, hosted by the USA.

Argentina’s withdrawal would have severely damaged, perhaps beyond repair, this edition of the tournament that is being held in the US for the first time in its 100 year history.

The marketing and broadcast rights to Copa America Centenario were the trigger for a number of the US Department of Justice investigations into corrupt South American, CONCACAF and marketing agency executives that in turn led to a series of indictments in the RICO case against football that US authorities are building.

In Argentina federal judge Maria de Cubria had demanded that the government intervene to avoid a bigger financial and institutional crisis at the AFA. The court had specifically investigated the finances of the governmental-backed ‘Futbol Para Todos’ TV programme

Both Macri, who was the chairman of Boca Juniors from 1995 until 2007, and AFA representatives consulted FIFA president Gianni Infantino to discuss the matter, according to Argentine media reports. FIFA generally does not support government intervention in the running of football federations.

The result appears to be the suspension of the AFA’s presidential election. The election pitted two candidates against each other: Claudio Tapia, chairman of Barracas Central, and AFA’s second vice-president Hugo Moyano, chairman of Independiente. In the past, Moyano had a strong association with former Argentina president Cristina Kirchner. There is speculation that Macri doesn’t consider Moyano to be the best candidate.

Two court appointed supervisors – Luis Tozzo, a lawyer, and Catalina Dembitsky, an accountant – will investigate the alleged financial irregularities in AFA’s management of TV rights and the money.

AFA’s Board members were not pleased with the government interference and threatened to use any means at their disposal, both sporting and judicial, to stop it. They threatened to withdraw Argentina from the Copa America, before Segura downplayed the pullout threat, also saying that Boca Juniors would be playing in the Copa Libertadores.

“I’m not resigning and there is no possibility of the national team returning from the United States,” Segura said.

“I hope this (order) isn’t the start of Government intervention (in the AFA).”

Argentina are red hot favorites to win the Copa America, with reigning champions Chile and Brazil considered to be their main challengers. Captain Lionel Messi is the team’s talismanic player, but he is missing the build-up to the tournament due to a tax fraud trial in Spain where he is due in court this week.

Argentina play Chile in their opening match next Tuesday June 7.

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