On the Potential Panamericana, Revisited

Posted on December 28, 2012 4:12 pm

In the spirit of holiday-season sloth, let me simply begin with an earlier quote on the future of a joint CONMEBOL-CONCACAF tournament.

The second drawback affects CONMEBOL in particular: the South Americans would have to decide whether to continue the Copa América or the Copa Panamericana, because European clubs would not allow the confederation to keep both….European clubs have made it clear that if the South American [World Cup qualifying] “league” is here to stay, then CONMEBOL will only be allowed one confederation tournament every World Cup cycle.

Apparently, even providing sanctioning for a one-time centennial celebration proved too much for FIFA to bear. According to Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl, efforts to get a 2016 Copa América Centenario on the FIFA calendar came up short, a result that may well have been expected for what would be the second CONMEBOL championship in two years. There is still time for confederation presidents Dr. Nicolas Leoz and Jeffrey Webb to lobby and change minds in Zurich; but if the latter sticks to the time frame of “early next year” suggested after CONCACAF’s Hexagonal Schedule Draw in November for providing an official announcement on the joint tournament, both sides will have to consider the possibility of a Copa América without Messi, Neymar and Falcao.

Before you fall into despair, though, consider: star players excusing themselves from the Copa América is hardly a new phenomenon. Even without the arbitrary restrictions on Mexico imposed by the Warner and Blazer regime in CONCACAF, Sir Alex Ferguson had preemptively denied the aztecas Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s services for the 2011 tournament in Argentina; and back when Brazil had more marketable stars than their archrivals (the time in human history marked in Barcelona bandwagon calendars as B.M.), the verdeamarela regularly participated in and won the Copa without their marquee attackers. A quick example: which was the last Copa América attended by Ronaldo Fenômeno? Answer in the comments, please.

Furthermore, the 2009 Gold Cup (the off-beat edition with no Confederations Cup berth on the line) provided ample proof of how wildly profitable a B-team summer tournament in the US can be. In spite of Mexico barely clinging on to life in World Cup qualifying after the failed Sven-Goran Eriksson experiment, no fewer than 85,000 paisanos filled the New Cowboys Stadium to see their team play Haiti in the quarterfinals. The US enjoys no shortage of nationalistic Mexicans and Central Americans (presuming that at least one of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador manage to qualify), as well as East-Coast Argentinians, Brazilians, Colombians and other latinos of South American heritage. Add in a host team regularly drawing crowds of 20,000 plus in recent years, and tickets for a 2016 Copa América, even one shorn of Euro-stars, would sell themselves. By the way, did I mention that we in the US tend to be good salespeople (see: the attendance record-setting 1994 World Cup)?

Having said that, the lesson that CONMEBOL should receive is clear: if a 16-team competition takes place and meets their standards, and if they wish to see it continue, it will only be possible through a permanent expansion of the Copa América. I have already addressed the benefits that both sides would derive from such a partnership, and will provide an extra one later today. Hopefully, in spite of the current setback, Webb, Enrique Sanz, Justino Compean and co. will draw on their greater confidence and experience in the US market to push for this tournament as the basis for long-term collaboration…even with these fine outstanding gentlemen at the other end of the table.

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