FOX Soccer Exclusive
Who has the courage to save CONCACAF?
CONCACAF is the federation that just keeps giving.
Over the past two weeks we've ...
- watched a widening bribes-for-votes scandal which made the whole sport look more corrupt than ever,
- seen three different men hold the office of CONCACAF "president" after the first one was suspended in the aforementioned scandal, while the second issued a series of increasingly bizarre statements that cast doubt on his mental fitness,
- been gifted with unmistakable evidence that despite having 40 countries in the federation, only five of them can actually play anything close to high-level soccer, and
- had five players test positive for an anabolic steroid which the Mexican fed is trying to pass off as being the fault of, and I quote, "tainted meat."
If you told me that, next, we'd see a flying saucer crash into the Jack Warner Center for Excellence, I'd believe you.
What is happening here is nothing less than a full-on meltdown. The crowds that packed Soldier Field this weekend only serve to mask a growing problem with the international game in this region. It is woefully inept, blatantly corrupt, and is shedding fans like a dog sloughs hair in August. If CONCACAF cannot clean up its act, it will not have a game left to run.
Let's start with the drugs, which five current members of Mexico's Gold Cup roster tested positive for on May 21 - and then played against El Salvador in the opener anyway. Let's also call it what it is: cheating.
Mexico is brazenly trying to have this one three ways. The FMF is denying that there is doping in their program; they'd also rather have no team penalty and be thus allowed to replace these guys on their roster; and they'd like to blame it all on some poor poultry producer and not the fact that, well, their guys may be dirty.
Now, it is true that the German authorities did warn teams traveling to Mexico for a coming youth tournament that Mexico's farm animals are pumped full of stuff that would make a bodybuilder blush. But, if you remember correctly, after the Germans said this in April, the Mexicans erupted, saying no such thing was true. Huh! How things change when your own guys get caught.
(Friday, Mexico's health department again denied that its meat was filled with steroids, and said the chances of contamination in their meat supply is less than one in a million.)
The thing is, the "tainted food" defense is a joke. I'm reliably told that it's almost impossible to test positive via food, and if you did, it would because you were poisoned (people have died from clenbuterol-tainted meat in China). I know this excuse sure sounds nice - just as it did when Alberto Contador used it after last year's Tour de France - but it's unlikely to be true. What this is is doping, and the guys who were caught should be punished. We don't often get to laud MLS, but they have the right idea; just this week throwing the book at Columbus's Josh Williams for taking a banned substance, apparently purchased at a national chain store.
But if you think I'm going to pile on the guys, think again. After all, this whole sport is so filthy, who can blame guys for doing anything they can to grab their piece of the pie? Forty thousand dollar in American cash was being handed out in paper bags down in the Caribbean, and it wasn't to the guys who actually play the sport. It's not all glamour life in CONCACAF, y'know. Some of the guys who play this sport are so poor they do things like defect to the United States and then work as day labor (see: Cuba) or beg their American coach for food and shelter (see: Haiti and Fernando Clavijo) while practicing at the local rec park. You think the guys from Grenada are raking in the bucks and babes? How about Guadeloupe?
So if I'm a player, watching all these fat guys getting in and out of nice cars, going into nice hotels, eating nice food, and walking away with bags full of cash and luxury goods, I starting asking myself what's wrong with this picture. How is it that family members of a high-ranking CONCACAF executive repeatedly got away with lavish spending on the fed tab while I have to worry about where my next meal is coming from? How is it that when our fed promises us bonuses, we never actually see them? Why is it wrong for me to take the cash from this gambler when I'm worried about feeding my family?
You see where this is going?
Everything is at risk now. The sport has spent 50years going from punchline to profit center in the United States. The national team game in the region has gone from Mexico and everyone else to a region that has at least five teams in a given year that can give you a quality game. The club game has gone from nonexistent to national television, brand new stadiums, and multi-million dollar revenues. And yet if fans lose faith that the game itself is free of deceit, how can any of this stand?
It cannot. Just as FIFA needs to get out of the way and clean house, so does CONCACAF. Instead of standing back, making excuses and enabling, Mexico and the United States need to lead. And instead of pretending it will all go away - as Lisle Austin, that short-lived CONCACAF president thought could happen - the garbage needs to be confronted head on.
The question is courage. The players, by and large, have it. The fans do too. Do you administrators have any?
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.