Friday, April 8, 2011

CONMEBOL's Uncomfortable Copa America Situation

With less than three months left before the start of Copa America, CONMEBOL is in a tight predicament. Japanese officials gave notice that due to the devastation wreaked on them by the earthquake and tsunami, they would not be able to participate in this year’s competition. Immediately following the disaster, the J-League (Japan's 1st division soccer league) suspended the rest of its season so that players, teams and officials could attend to more pressing matters. Things like whether players' houses were blown away or what happened to missing family members had to be addressed. While their withdrawal from the cup was not immediate, they recently announced that they were withdrawing their participation. CONMEBOL’s dilemma is figuring out how to proceed.

Copa America’s format has traditionally included all 10 members of CONMEBOL and usually two invited CONCACAF teams (although Japan was invited in 1999). Desire to invite Japan again this year looks to have been driven by expectation that the likelihood of selling television rights for a more lucrative sum. In fact, the expectations were met, and the rights were sold before the catastrophe in Japan took place. The result now is that CONMEBOL officials are concerned with the economic (and legal) impact of what it could mean to them.

For now, CONMEBOL have asked the Japanese FA to reconsider their decision, and given them until 15 April to make a decision. The idea has been also been floated to request that Spain fill the slot left vacant by Japan, which could potentially also pay a lucrative fee. While the possibility was initially greeted with excitement by Spanish FA president, Spanish La Liga officials are opposed, preferring instead that their players take the offseason to rest instead.

Several of the last minute ideas are half baked. For example, if Japan were to play, where would they practice? These guys have not been playing at all, so expecting them to compete internationally seem ludicrous. On the other hand, if Spain agreed to send a team, would it be the world champions, or would it be a team made up mostly of reserves? What is the likelihood that Spain would send a U-20 squad? Finally, it is unclear whether anyone has considered whether it is unethical to invited clubs to the Cuopa America who are nowhere from the Americas? It would be a real embarrassment if Spain did send its senior, World Cup team and then won the Copa America. This would result in the Cope America held by a team from no where in the Americas!

This cup takes place in June; roughly the same time period as when the US is hosting the Gold Cup (a tournament for CONCACAF countries). For this reason, CONMEBOL is having a eck of a time finding a worthy participant. But perhaps this predicament will also shine a light on an important issue. Do CONMEBOL and CONCACAF countries actually need separate championships? Perhaps when June's competitions conclude, it will be time to reconsider combining these competitions to form a regional super-championship.

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