Chuck Blazer, general secretary of CONCACAF and highest-ranking American in FIFA, spoke about the Gold Cup at the conclusion of the USA-Costa Rica third-place match at the Orange Bowl in Miami last Saturday. The following are excerpts from that interview:
Q: Can you compare this tournament to its previous editions?
CHUCK BLAZER: First of all, you have to put these tournaments into somewhat of a perspective. In 1990, when we conceived of running [the Gold Cup], the idea was that national teams [in this region] existed only once in four years and that was for World Cup qualifying. That was the only time that teams of any seriousness got together for the purpose of playing at a competitive level. We recognized that if we kept up that pace, without creating any other forms of competition, that our lot in the world, as far as a World Cup family, was diminished as opposed to getting better. The concept, then, came to organize a confederation's championship every two years whose main objective is to keep national teams alive and have a purpose. ... When you think about some of the teams, particularly in the Caribbean, whose World Cup qualifying includes of two games -- home and away -- and then they're finished; that's it for four years. They weren't developing.
If you look now both at our position at the World Cup and in the FIFA standings, you'll see that we have more teams integrated and at better levels than we ever have before. This event is a very much a reason for it.
So the object here is not -- despite some of the views delivered -- it not simply the issues of attendance, it's not simply the issues of money and it's not the issue of money that participants can claim. It is real matches as opposed to matches that don't count. These are not friendlies, these are real matches with real things at stake like tradition and reputation.
Q: Have you been troubled by this year's attendance?
CB: I was earlier concerned about the attendance in Mexico. It was weak in Mexico in the earlier rounds. There were guys who were favorites who are not on the national team and are not likely to be part of the 2006 team. This is the beginning of a new team. We see this every four years at the beginning Gold Cup of the cycle. That was very different than two years ago when Mexico didn't send its first team and was severely fined and sanctioned for that. That's not the case here. The public didn't come running out to greet us because some of their favorite players weren't on [the team]. ... It's too early for us to do a post-mortem on why the attendance was what it was. We will endeavor upon that and see what we can do for next time.
Q: Regarding the comments made by U.S. coach Bruce Arena about the scheduling and roster sizes in the tournament -- do you have any thoughts on that or whether the confederation will look at changing anything along those lines?
CB: Bruce is free to criticize any rules that he wants. As far as the ones that existed in this tournament, they exist for a reason, and I don't believe there's any reason to change them. Part of the reason that we don't allow for roster changes is that if you were to allow that in an event like this, the richer teams are going to be the ones able to make those changes.
Obviously the U.S., being at home, would have a great advantage, as well as would Mexico. The other countries do not have federations that are quite as wealthy and so it's a decision that just because people are willing to pay for it, should you allow them to do it? It really comes down to, 'OK, what is affordable, how many players are necessary based on the number of games?' You're talking about a total of five games spaced over three weekends -- there are certainly schedules in our leagues that are tougher than that.
Q: Could you just expand the rosters to 20 players?
CB: Who is going to pay for it? In the end, it becomes an issue of finances, and this is a year that because of a lot of cuts that have occurred economically ... it's not easy.