Copa Panamericana 2016: CONCACAF leadership traveling to Brazil for negotiations

Posted on July 3, 2012 11:11 pm

I am sure that most visitors to BigSoccer noticed the temporary lull in new front-page articles, only broken earlier today with David Bolt’s coverage of the lamentable situation facing one of the most famous clubs in world football. Allow me to reassure you that no coordinated writers’ strike was at hand: on my end, for once, I have had little to discuss over the last few weeks. Between the World Cup qualifying matches in early June and the start of the next CONCACAF Champions League at the end of this month, only a pair of CCL qualifying tournaments have appeared on an otherwise blank radar. Then again, if the negotiations taking place this week are successful, this may be the last time we ever face a dearth of summer action in our region.

In 2013, Mexico will carry the CONCACAF standard at what promises to be a remarkably competitive Confederations Cup. Afterwards, the aztecas will (reluctantly) compete with 11 other participants in the off-beat Gold Cup, which will hopefully soon be condemned to the dustbin of history. In the following year, all eyes will be on Brazil for the World Cup; and in 2015, another Gold Cup will determine our representative in the 2017 Confederations Cup (itself a preview for the 2018 World Cup).

The only year with nothing penciled in (yet) for the international off-season is 2016, and today’s news further confirms CONCACAF Vice President Alfredo Hawit’s assertion that a “big enthusiasm” exists for organizing a hemispheric championship in that time period.

Various Mexican websites revealed today that a pair of CONCACAF Executive Committee members flew down to Brazil on CONMEBOL President Nicolas Leoz’s invitation, in order to attend the second leg of the 2012 Copa Libertadores Final and proceed with discussions on the 2016 “Copa América.” Unsurprisingly, they focused on the question of which North American country would be selected to host the tournament, with South American officials reportedly sharing Hawit’s preference for the United States. Another element of the story, however, is arguably more significant for our purposes: it is no surprise that Mexican Football Federation (FMF) President Justino Compean was one of the invited CONCACAF representatives, given the sui generis relationship between Mexico and CONMEBOL. The other, however, did not similarly hail from the North-and-Central-American bloc: the aforementioned Hawit did not get to make the trip, nor did USSF President Sunil Gulati (who has remained faithful to his low-key public stance on confederation affairs to date). Rather, CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb was extended the opportunity to participate directly in these crucial conversations, a significantly encouraging sign from our side of the table.

How much Webb can claim to represent the Caribbean is up for debate at the moment: while he has apparently occupied the FIFA Executive Committee seat reserved for the islands (assuming that this arrangement between the three sub-regions is still in place), he failed to pull off the “Uncle Jack” hat trick, with Antiguan Gordon Derrick winning the CFU Presidency. Furthermore, the very concept of a common Caribbean interest (in a footballing sense) may be antiquated, given the split between the larger and smaller federations within the CFU. Regardless, the invitation to both Compean and Webb reinforces the assertion that making this tournament happen is not a partisan or factional issue; rather, the entire confederation stands to benefit. While acknowledging that no one can know how conditions will be four years from now, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which a Copa Panamericana held in the United States does not generate a huge profit, enough for CONCACAF to redistribute a satisfactory amount to member associations. And as long as the qualifying process is open to all FIFA-affiliated CONCACAF members (whether through World Cup qualifying or the Gold Cup), Caribbean teams will have their fair shot at reaching the Panamericana. It should also be noted that as long as the Caribbean Cup remains a biennial affair, the smaller national teams will not miss the discontinued off-beat Gold Cup. Other than squabbling over the exact size of the tournament bonuses to be handed out, I fail to see why Caribbean officials would oppose this initiative.

I have already gone on record stating that I hope this tournament takes place, that it succeeds, and that CONMEBOL is sufficiently impressed to justify a permanent expansion of the Copa América to 16 teams (10 CONMEBOL + 6 CONCACAF guests). Of course, this could mean no breaks for whichever CONCACAF team reaches the Confederations Cup, in which case they would have to negotiate with the European employers of some of their star players to decide which tournament they sit out. But with that and other minor issues aside, I would be truly shocked if no one involved in the 2016 Panamericana left with the impression that this should happen more often.

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