April Commentary

“Copa America Centenaro and 2015 FIFA Corruption Case”

This fall the 100th anniversary of the premier international soccer competition for the America’s is taking place for the first time in American soil. The competition celebrates the one hundred years of the CONMEBOL (Confederation of South American Football). This will be the 45th installment of the tournament that started in 1916, where the North American soccer federation the CONCACAF will be invited to participate for the first time. It’s surely to be a huge deal as CONMEBOL President Nicolas Leoz said “Hopefully we can organize a big event, because we have 100 years and we want to celebrate big”.  In order to fully understand the importance of this competition we must look back into the rich history of the Copa America. The first edition in 1916 where Uruguay ousted Argentina 3-1 for its first of a record 15 Copa America crowns. Uruguay would dominate the 20’s and 30’s until an era of Argentine brilliance lead the Albicelestes to seven consecutive coronations in the 40’s and 50’s. Around 1964 however the exceptionalism of Brazilian soccer was demonstrated by rising stars such as Pele, Falcao, Rafinha, and Juan Guanso Lomes Perez Sousa. The Copa America usually set the tone for a successful campaign in the world cup which Uruguay and Argentina would lift twice and Brazil a record five times. The following decades would see these powerhouses battle each other for scattered titles and new up and coming challengers such as Bolivia and Peru would take the cup home each twice. Moving on to the modern era, Brazil has dominated the majority of the competition, however Uruguay claimed the title anew in 2011 and Chile won its country first Copa in 2015.

The teams participating officially announced for the tournament, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF confirmed that all ten CONMEBOL members will be joined by six CONCACAF teams in the tournament. United States and Mexico will automatically qualify. The other four spots will be given to Costa Rica, the champions of the Central American Football Union by virtue of winning the 2014 Copa Centro Americana, Jamaica, the champions of the Caribbean Football Union by virtue of winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup, and Haiti and Panama, the two play-off winners among the four highest finishers in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup not already qualified. The group seeds and match schedule were announced on 17 December 2015 the USA (Group A) were seeded as host, Argentina (Group D) were seeded as the highest FIFA-ranked team in the CONMEBOL region during December 2015. According to Soccer United Marketing, Brazil (Group B) and Mexico (Group C) were seeded as they were “the most decorated nations in the last 100 years in international competitions from their respective confederations”. However, there has been criticism for not including Uruguay, which won two World Cups and is the Copa América all-time leader with 15 championships, or Chile, which is the defending Copa América winner.

This tournament however highlights the 2015 FIFA corruption case where U.S. federal prosecutors disclosed cases of corruption by officials and associates connected with FIFA, the governing body of association football, futsal and beach soccer. On May 2015, fourteen people were indicted in connection with an investigation by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) into wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. The United States Attorney General simultaneously announced the unsealing of the indictments and the prior guilty pleas by four football executives and two corporations. The investigation mostly revolved around collusion between officials of continental football bodies CONMEBOL and CONCACAF (Caribbean, Central and North America), and sports marketing executives. The sports marketing executives were holders of media and marketing rights for high-profile international competitions including the Americas’ FIFA World Cup qualifying tournaments, and showpiece tournaments CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa América. CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, also serving president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, was arrested in connection with the investigation, as were two sitting FIFA Executive Committee members: Eduardo Li of the Costa Rican Football Federation and Eugenio Figueredo, formerly of the Uruguayan Football Association, and former CONMEBOL President Nicolás Leoz. The investigation lasted several years, with the first arrest, of former CONCACAF president Jack Warner’s son Daryll, made in July 2013.In total, seven current FIFA officials were arrested at the Hotel Baur au Lac in Zürich on May 27. They were preparing to attend the 65th FIFA Congress, which was scheduled to include the election of the president of FIFA. They are expected to be extradited to the United States on suspicion of receiving US$150 million in bribes. There was also a simultaneous raid on the CONCACAF headquarters in Miami, and later, two further men handed themselves in to police for arrest: Jack Warner and marketing executive Alejandro Burzaco. Two further arrests of FIFA officials at the hotel occurred in December 2015.The arrests case triggered Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany and Switzerland to open or intensify separate criminal investigations into top FIFA officials for corruption.

In all the pending one hundred years anniversary of the Copa America is sure to captivate soccer fans around the globe. This of course doesn’t mask the huge stain on FIFA’s reputation which will need every bit of excitement and praise from the tournament to make amends to billions in racketeering and brides it’s been indicted for.

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