Soccer's scandals poison Gold Cup playing field

By Paul Kennedy

As a child in the early 1960s, I was a college football fan, or as much a college football fan as I could be growing up in New York.

It wasn't like there was much college football on television or radio or in the papers. My source was Street & Smith's College Football Yearbook and I created my own little world around college football, spending hours reading page after page of previews about players I'd never seen. I would go in my backyard and make the poses of the players on the cover, the quarterback, poised to throw the football pinned behind his ear, or the halfback, football in one arm and the other arm extended as if to push off a would-be tackler.

For reasons not entirely clear, I was an Alabama fan. Perhaps it was Bama's flashy quarterbacks, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler or its pretty cheerleaders. When I think of the Crimson Tide, I think of their coach, Bear Bryant. And when I think of Bear Bryant, I think of his houndstooth hat -- who wears hats these days? -- and his trooper escort. You can't watch an SEC game without the coaches being escorted on and off the field by state troopers.

I was thinking about those troopers on Wednesday night.

Where were the troopers to escort Mark Geiger and his officiating crew off the field at the end of the Mexico-Panama game? After all, Atlanta's Georgia Dome is the site of the SEC championship. Instead of troopers, we had a handful of security guards running to the center circle, their yellow jackets flapping as they tried to catch up to Geiger, who had by then already been surrounded by Panamanians.

The scenes that took place on Wednesday were bad, but they could have been a lot worse. Someone could have been seriously hurt from all the debris being thrown by fans. And luckily Geiger was unharmed. One of the few heroes of the night was Panama captain Roman Torres, the player whom Geiger whistled for the controversial penalty kick and who helped keep the peace.

What was evident from the scenes on Wednesday night in Atlanta and in the next two days after the game was the entire lack of authority. No one to keep the peace at the Georgia Dome and no one to step up and take responsibility. I guess we were foolish to expect better from Concacaf. After all, what can you expect from an organization whose last two administrations have been run, it appears, by crooks who made off with tens of millions of dollars?

We've since had Mexico captain Andres Guardado say he thought of purposely missing the tying penalty kick. Could you imagine Lebron James saying a call was so bad he thought of purposely missing the tying free throws in Game 6 of the NBA finals? On Friday, Pedro Chaluja, the president of Panama’s soccer federation, came out and said he thought the semifinal was fixed and demanded an investigation. Who for a minute really believes the game was fixed? But the FIFA and Concacaf scandals have so poisoned the playing field that these statements were out there.

No, there's not crowd trouble at every Gold Cup match. But the tournament has a long history of incidents. Indeed, the intensity of USA-Mexico rivalry grew out of the Gold Cup and was fueled, on the U.S. side, by the view that Mexican fans at Los Angeles venues had mistreated the U.S. national team and its fans.

What was different about those early days was that few were watching. The Gold Cup is now a big event -- the Mexico-Panama fiasco on UniMas was the most-watched program on any network Wednesday night  in the key 18-49 adult demo -- and soccer is part the mainstream in political life these days.

Somewhere, I can imagine Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal -- from the recent hearing on U.S. Soccer, Concacaf and FIFA -- was watching all that's been going and muttering to himself, "Where's Gulati?"

Sunil Gulati wears many hats. The hat he was wearing when the Senate subcommittee on which Blumenthal is the ranking member tried unsuccessfully to get him to testify at the hearing was as U.S. Soccer president. Another is as one of three members of a special committee appointed to run Concacaf. Keep it afloat is more like it as it deals with the fallout from the Federal indictments involving its last two presidents, Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb, the plea agreement involving its now former marketing agency Traffic and the myriad tax IRS issues dating back to its failure to file tax returns from 2004 through 2010.

After Saturday's third-place game, Gulati spoke for the first time about the events that took place on Wednesday night. He looked on the positive side: "You saw something else come out of Wednesday which is almost never the case: an official and an organization admit there was an error. Concacaf did that, and Mark did that. He's an excellent referee who has refereed at top level -- he refereed a World Cup final at the [2011] U-20s -- and he accepted the fact that he made some mistakes that impacted the game."

The end game in all this for Gulati is to one day bring the World Cup back to the United States. The plan was to play here in 2022. FIFA gave that World Cup to Qatar. But I can imagine a year or two from now FIFA asking the U.S. government for its support to host the 2026 World Cup.

For past World Cups, FIFA wouldn't ask for support, it would demand concessions from host countries on all sorts of tax and customs issues. Until recently, government officials like Senator Blumenthal would have probably been warm to the idea of a World Cup coming here.

The problem is, these same government officials may tell FIFA, based on what some of they've been seeing, they want nothing to do with it or its sport. And who could blame them?

9 comments about "Soccer's scandals poison Gold Cup playing field".
  1. stewart hayes, July 25, 2015 at 11:39 a.m.

    The trash thrown on the field during the Costa Rica - Mexico game was also deplorable. I have not read what if any actions were being taken to prevent this show of poor sportsmanship in a US stadium. It was embarrassing to watch. The Costa Ricans were being pelted with trash most notably during corner kicks.

  2. R2 Dad, July 25, 2015 at 5:13 p.m.

    Paul, until FIFA pays taxes on the income generated by the USA hosting another World Cup, I'd rather we NOT host until FIFA comes clean. Since reform is desperately needed, and FIFA has proven they have WAY too much money on their hands, paying taxes is the least FIFA can do to counterbalance all the ridiculous demands for new stadia, etc etc etc that are placed on hosting countries. Couldn't South Africa and Brazil have used $20M-$100M in tax receipts from FIFA to address their many needs? NO MORE FIFA FREE RIDES!

  3. Soccer Madness, July 27, 2015 at 9:57 a.m.

    If they do make Fifa pay taxes they should also make all the rich in Usa do the same. Or else would be hypocritical. We are the kings of double standards and corruption. Semi game was obviously fixed. Whoever believes that the ref did not know exactly what he was doing is blind.

  4. Miguel Dedo, July 27, 2015 at 12:03 p.m.

    Do Central American and Mexican fans throw trash on opponents in the own leagues? Is this a cultural thing generally or is it an expression of their feelings toward foreigners? Are Mexican fans as crude toward opponents from other countries as they are toward USA teams and fans? There may be several sociology PhD dissertations in this.

  5. Kevin Leahy, July 27, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    The throwing of objects has been going on forever by our neighbors to the south. I have been on the end of it in the stands. Concacaf must save a lot of money on security because, I have never seen anyone remove these people. I have been to baseball games and seen people promptly removed for misbehaving. Money grubbing comes first & everyone's safety comes second.

  6. J White, July 28, 2015 at 6:16 p.m.

    When showers of filled beverage cups came raining down on the Panama players after their goahead goal in the semi match with Mexico as the Panamanian players celebrate near the corner flag, I was embarrassed. Embarrassed for the city of Atlanta, for a modern stadium, and for what is supposed to be not just good hospitality in the South but also manners and proper behavior. Where was the law and order? I too have to ask where the security was. Not having uniformed officers professionally moving with speed to whisk away the cup throwers (in handcuffs) and then also at the close of the match to guard over the match officials was also so bush league. These organizers are the same ones who agitate to host another US World Cup? These US stadium people think they are so much better than how Qatar or Russia will host? When the Panamanian player was correctly red carded in that same match, he actually had a bit of a beef at one point for being pelted from the stands by various objects. Granted, the Panamanian player's antics were unprofessional and he should have already been off the field. (He too must be severely now disciplined by CONCACAF) For a fan, it takes audacity and a bit of recklessness to throw objects onto the field from seats so near (and typically so pricey). Usually these seats are always within security camera views. It is normally a given then that the fan(s) doing this will see sure repercussions. So it makes me wonder about the follow up media stories that we ought to now see with the camera footage to back up the arrests, fines, and punishments for those throwing objects onto the field and toward athletes, officials, or just creating general mayhem. Don't blame CONCACAF for any of this. This is poor control, management, security and coordination. That stadium management in Atlanta looked asleep at the wheel. I would now strike Atlanta off any 2016, 2017 or 2018 hosting lists. The point: Send a message to all other US stadium management teams - "Get your act together."

  7. J White, July 28, 2015 at 8:06 p.m.

    It has to be underscored that the US is in no position to make its claim for a future FIFA World Cup men's tournament when stadium behavior gets out of hand as it did several times during this recent Gold Cup, most notably from my viewing during the Panama-Mexico match in Atlanta. Doesn't everyone in the USA get it when Turkey can never score a big UEFA or FIFA level tournament? Why? Fan violence, match control, measures taken in the stadiums, safety and security, law enforcement, etc. are too often wanting. Every year there are other near ghastly occurrences in Turkish stadiums at club level or during national team matches. And then Turkish official scratch their heads and lament at why UEFA passes them over when it comes to awarding hosting rights. So, for the dullards, the point is to US officials and those who win the rights to host games in large US city stadiums: Get your act together. (The Panamanian team had a very legitimate beef about mistreatment when they could not celebrate their 1-0 goal in peace and safety. That leads to very unnecessary speculation about match fixing and match results biases.)

  8. c abraham, July 29, 2015 at 3:34 p.m.

    I can't understand for the life me why Paul Kennedy thinks FIFA will come to U.S. begging us to host the 2026 games. First, there will undoubtedly be a backlash against the US for leading the effort to indict FIFA officials. Yes, the US is right for doing so and soccer fans everywhere will benefit. Nevertheless, this doesn't change the fact that officials at FIFA wil want to retaliate in some way against the country responsible for sending friends and colleagues to jail. This is just how these things generally. The person or entity forcing change is usually reviled. Second, the U.S. proved itself inept at hosting a tournament the size of the Gold Cup. Even in an ideal world where things are fair, why would FIFA award the U.S. with the World Cup after this performance? There are plenty of countries out there ready, willing, and able to host the World Cup. World Cup Finals draw nearly 1 billion viewers, far more than our Super Bowl. The vast majority reside outside of the US. Let's see how we do with the Cup of the Americas next summer before trying to make a case to host the World Cup.

    On another note, Panama deserved the straight red card J White? Not sure if you played soccer, but it's very much a part of the game for a player to reach back to locate a player behind him or her before going up for a header. It's probably the most dangerous part of the game. Players do this to protect themselves. It's supposed to be done with a forearm. The fact that the Panamanian player reached back with his arm extended made it a foul. Further, the fact that his hand came up too high and grazed the Mexican players face (and it wasn't entirely clear that he touched him at all) arguably made it a yellow card. But no way a straight red card, particularly that early in the game. In the refs defense, the Mexican player's embellished reaction obviously influenced his opinion. That's soccer. But this doesn't make it a deserved red.

  9. Ric Fonseca, July 31, 2015 at 9:44 p.m.

    BTW folks, hasn't Paul Gardner written numerous of times about players "embellishing" fouls? At one time in the early 70's while attending a US Soccer National Coaching School in L.A. County, one of the instructors went to sar as to say how some players from the other side of the pond, would roll over and over, while clutching the supposed injury, the trainer is summoned by the ref, who then comes rushing on to the field with a bottle of water and a sponge, soak the player's injured part, and then all of a sudden, the player would leap up, shake himself, and then sprint off after the offending player.Apparently the USSF instructor said that it had been a miracle, and that the trainer had brought a special supply of holy water from the local cathedral, and voila, the player was immediately healed.... And to Mike Dedo, yes Mexican fans do pelt garbage and cups of yellow water on opposing teams. Remember several months ago when a bunch of pendejo Chivas of Guadalajara fans got into a very violent demonstration and injured sxeveral police officers - in the stadium? Shocking as it was, the "autoridades" identified several idiots, tried them, fined them and threw them in jail. And as I've asked time and again, how many of you commentators actually officiated any futbol-soccer game, or are most of you Monday "arm-chair" coaches and referees???

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