CONCACAF cites strong interest in Gold Cup as it attempts to move forward from scandal
Early morning raids in Miami and Zurich plunged CONCACAF deep into the mire of a global scandal three weeks ago. Several confederation officials -- including president Jeffrey Webb and vice president Eduardo Li -- were provisionally dismissed from office as the U.S. Justice Department handed down indictments and investigated allegations of corruption, fraud and racketeering.
The subsequent fallout from the indictments of Webb and Li, plus the provisional ban levied against general secretary Enrique Sanz on June 1, left CONCACAF to rebuild. Senior vice president Alfredo Hawit ascended to the presidency, while Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani, FMF president Justino Compean and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati were appointed to a special committee to evaluate and sustain all business operations.
Those men will bear much of the burden of charting the way forward for CONCACAF as it copes with the scandal, but the responsibility for organizing and staging the Gold Cup next month falls squarely on acting general secretary Ted Howard.
Howard is serving in this role for a second time after bridging the gap between Chuck Blazer's resignation in July 2011 and Sanz's appointment in July 2012. He knows the magnitude of the work ahead to ensure the 12-team tournament in the United States and Canada comes off successfully next month. He understands the looming spectre of the ongoing investigations and the scrutiny invited by those indictments, but he says the confederation is fully focused on the Gold Cup.
"We've worked really hard in the last three weeks to make sure we're keeping everyone totally focused on the main goal here, which is the Gold Cup," Howard said in a phone interview on Thursday. "It's our core tournament. It's the most important thing that we do, along with the other events that we run. That's our business. We're really, completely focused on this. We have others who are working in other ways to deal with other issues, but, we have -- from my standpoint and the general secretary's office -- put all of our resources into making sure we do the best Gold Cup ever."
Ticket sales suggest the scandal has not subdued interest. CONCACAF has sold more than 300,000 tickets for the tournament this summer, including virtual sellouts for U.S. national team group stage matches in Frisco, Texas and Kansas City, Kan. Those overall sales numbers constitute a 100 percent increase from this same stage two years ago, according to the confederation.
It is a response that speaks for itself, according to Howard. He cited the desire from fans to come out to see their national teams play as the primary motivation behind those sales, even as those unseemly allegations swirl around.
At this stage, it is tough to predict how those investigations and the ensuing fallout will influence the tournament or manifest in the days and the weeks ahead. It is an ongoing process that will continue for the foreseeable future.
Howard said he and the rest of CONCACAF will channel their energy into the Gold Cup in the meantime and try to ensure a successful tournament as best they can.
"We keep saying focus, but the reality is that is what we have to do," Howard said. "The other things are going to be there. They are not going to go away. We just have to make sure that we're letting the public know where we are with the tournament and with everything else. It's going to carry itself. Right now, it's showing us that it will."