By Paul Nicholson and Samindra Kunti
March 1 – South American governing body Conmebol looks to be following the FIFA line and keeping the international calendar open for the world governing body’s proposed global competition revamp by rejecting U.S. Soccer’s offer to discuss participation in a cash-rich continental tournament in 2020 in the US.
In a letter Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez cited the primacy of the Copa America and a lack of FIFA approval for the refusal to take the discussion forward.
It is a remarkable decision in light of the South Americans lust for North American football money and taking their players to the US for national team games that provide more income than playing in their own countries.
U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro’s offer, made with the oversight of his own regional confederation Concacaf, reportedly offered a package guaranteeing almost $200 million to the participants and their governing bodies.
Concacaf had said in a statement. “We view this opportunity positively as it is not intended to replace or substitute any future editions of the Concacaf Gold Cup and it complements our vision to continue providing opportunities for our Member Associations to play competitive football at the highest level.”
Cordeiro had similarly stressed that the new tournament would neither replace the Copa America or the Gold Cup. He had also indicated that the impact a tournament like this could have for the Concacaf region via a proposed Legacy Fund could be very positive, especially for the Caribbean.
Conmebol and its nations’ football executives and commercial partners, have contributed the bulk of the individuals caught in the FIFAGate scandal that rocked world football in 2015 and the prosecution of which is still not complete.
Concacaf officials were also caught in the indictments with the organisation and graft around the 2016 Copa America Centenario being a one of the major pieces of evidence contribution to the prosecution’s building of its RICO case.
Even with this background the 2016 tournament was put back together and held successfully, with all parties saying they should look to do it again.
Those discussions had foundered until Cordeiro stepped in and made his invitation.
Dominguez, a close ally of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and who took the lead that Infantino’s repeatedly champions on officially requesting the 2022 World Cup is expanded to 48 teams, cited in his rebuttal of the Cordeiro offer that the Zurich governing body hadn’t approved the new event and also argued that the Copa America would remain a priority for Conmebol.
The reality is that FIFA had not refused the sanctioning of the new event (or in reality whether they would need to) but perhaps Dominguez knew more than the other participants in the discussion.
The Copa America is the world’s oldest continental championship. This summer Brazil will stage the tournament and both Qatar, for the first time, and Japan, have been invited to participate. In the past both the US and Mexico have also participated.
The new tournament would have been a valuable exercise for the US men’s team, who have been struggling following their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and similarly valuable for host cities around the US. Seventeen American cities have bid to become host cities during the 2026 World Cup, which the US will share with neighbours Mexico and Canada.
The Conmebol refusal will doubtless be a frustration for the US at a time when everyone seems to want to play their tournaments, leagues, and matches in their country, benefit from the facilities and the revenue opportunity but without necessarily feeding back into their domestic game or for the benefit of their national team.
If FIFA are the real reason behind Conmebol’s refusal to come to the negotiation table then FIFA can expect a rejuvenating US federation to kick back. They are unlikely to find them as bully-able or as easily compliant as other national federations, and they have to organise a World Cup in 2026 in the region with a set of criteria that host nations don’t always find comfortable. It might be an exaggeration, but the sense that ‘we like your country, facilities, and money, but we don’t much care for you’ would seem to be the message in this regard.
There is nothing to stop Cordeiro and US Soccer pressing ahead with their plans and they can invite individual associations, but in a reduced version and with invitees from different continents. It would be a mistake to underestimate them and their influence, or take them for granted.
Contact the writers of this story, Paul Nicholson and Samindra Kunti, at firstname.lastname@example.org