On American Integration: Getting Rid of CONCACAF

Posted on October 29, 2012 6:26 pm

On yesterday’s edition of the Fox Soccer Channel program “Goals on Sunday”, Rob Stone asked Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl how arrangements for the special 2016 edition of the Copa América are progressing. Wahl started by recounting what is now common knowledge: CONMEBOL made the initial announcement prematurely, given that discussions with CONCACAF and the US Soccer Federation are still ongoing. He then identified a significant factor in the negotiations: getting the 2016 tournament on the FIFA International Calendar.

This is no small matter, given that the calendar empowers national associations to demand that clubs release key players for national-team duty. The problem lies in the fact that only two types of competitions are included in the FIFA Calendar: tournaments run by FIFA, and tournaments run by a single Confederation. The Algarve Cup is the only exception; and as a friendly women’s football tournament, it hardly acts as a lightning rod for controversy. It is important to note that the Copa América is registered under CONMEBOL alone, for which reason Mexico could not obligate Sir Alex Ferguson to let Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez stick around for the 2011 edition. As I previously explained, registering the 2016 tournament under both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL would be completely unprecedented; and if FIFA were to deny this option, then according to Article 20.3 l of their own statutes, their consent would still be necessary for CONMEBOL to include more guest teams in their championship.

While that gets sorted out, I wanted to address a number of topics related to the theme of integrating football in the Western Hemisphere. In this first entry, we will explore the possibility of abandoning CONCACAF, a subject on which I have heard everything from informed arguments and earnest opinions to downright nonsense. The comments on articles in Mediotiempo, MLSSoccer and here on BigSoccer can be boiled down to three trends:

1) Mexico (i.e. the Mexican Football Federation, or FMF) should bail on CONCACAF and join CONMEBOL, where they will get to play against teams their own size.

2) Mexico and the US don’t get sufficiently challenged in CONCACAF; both of them should bolt for CONMEBOL.

3) Better yet, why don’t all the associations in North and Central America get together, get rid of CONCACAF, leave the Caribbean to fend for itself and make a new-and-improved 20-team Confederation with CONMEBOL?

Regular readers will be familiar with my personal views; but for present purposes I will switch sides, look through the statutes of FIFA and CONCACAF and ask: how could it actually happen?

First, let us deal with the possibility of an individual federation switching from one Confederation to another, as in the oft-cited example of Australia officially leaving the OFC for the AFC following the 2006 World Cup. To begin, I must admit that the assertion that a federation can only leave CONCACAF with CONCACAF’s permission is incorrect; in fact, according to Article 8 of CONCACAF’s Statutes, a member association simply needs to file a “registered letter” of intent to retire from CONCACAF to the Executive Committee, “and ratify this decision by the same means three months later…”. Article 20.j does note that the Ordinary Congress has the capacity to “consider or resolve disaffiliation or expulsion cases submitted by the Executive Committee for its consideration”, but the language does not clarify whether the Congress has the right to deny a member association’s attempt to leave.

Here, we will assume that filing the two letters is sufficient. And with that, hypothetically, Mexico is out of CONCACAF. Now, how do they get in CONMEBOL? Here is where things get more tricky. Article 20.2 of the FIFA Statutes states:

FIFA may, in exceptional circumstances, authorise a Confederation to grant membership to an Association that belongs geographically to another continent and is not affiliated to the Confederation on that continent. The opinion of the Confederation concerned geographically shall be obtained.

Emphasis mine.

That is, even if we assume that CONMEBOL would welcome an individual ex-CONCACAF member with open arms, FIFA would only green-light the switch after soliciting CONCACAF’s opinion; and given that CONCACAF “shall be composed of all Football Associations geographically belonging to North America, Central America and the Caribbean” (CONCACAF Statutes, Article 1, emphasis mine), we can safely presume that CONCACAF would object to the move on ideological and practical grounds.

Now, the quoted Article 2 does not force FIFA to accede to CONCACAF’s interest, that is, FIFA could theoretically go ahead and support a Mexico move to CONMEBOL over CONCACAF’s veto; but that decision would carry serious political ramifications for the FIFA President. Article 23.1 of the FIFA Statutes notes that every FIFA member association gets one vote in the Ordinary Congress, and Article 25.2 q establishes that the Ordinary Congress elects the President (along with the Representative of Women’s Football). With the FMF hypothetically seceding, CONCACAF would still have 34 votes in the FIFA Congress, representing a considerable bloc that no FIFA politician worth his salt would risk handing over to a potential rival candidate.

To summarize: any individual federation can leave CONCACAF of their own free will. An attempt to join CONMEBOL, however, would be met with objection from both CONCACAF (especially if one of their “cash cows” tries to bolt) and FIFA (in order to keep a key voting bloc happy), leaving the CONCACAF deserter as a footballing pariah. So, for you separatists: how does playing non-aligned World Cup matches with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar sound?

Ok, so how about blowing up CONCACAF itself? Article 14.c of the CONCACAF Statutes addresses the necessary procedure for its dissolution. The move would have to be made during an Extraordinary Congress, which requires the attendance of at least 75 percent of the affiliated Associations; and the decision to dissolve CONCACAF also requires the agreement of 75 percent of the affiliated Associations.

A quick bit of math: CONCACAF is made up of 40 Associations (35 full members and five associate members). The United States, Mexico, Canada and the UNCAF member nations comprise 10 associations in total. You can see where I am going with this: in order to get the 75-percent majority necessary to disband CONCACAF, at least 20 Caribbean FAs have to be on board. Now, imagine telling those 20 FAs that you need their help, and that your grand scheme involves abandoning them to scrap for a half-spot in the World Cup finals, while you in North and Central America keep your money and go on to bigger and better things. How do you think that would pan out?

So, for those of you who support Mexico, the United States, Canada or one of the Central American nations, the end of the matter is this:

You’re in CONCACAF.

The Caribbean is here to stay.

And you aren’t going anywhere without them.

Deal with it.

Lastly, as an interesting side note: Article 3.10 of the CONCACAF Statutes specifies that 30 days’ notice must be provided before conducting a draw for any tournament, in order to allow any member associations to “be present if they wish to do so.” That is, if the FMF, the Canadian Soccer Association or anyone else wants to make sure that the Gold Cup or CCL draw is not rigged, they have every right to send someone to Miami to see it happen live.

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