Is the 2016 Copa Centenario, held on U.S. soil next summer, the world’s most tainted sporting event? Perhaps only a Russian national championship (insert sport here) could supersede it for all-around cheating and deception, but the Copa Centenario would at least have to be part of the conversation.
And, judging by the looks of things, that conversation might not be over yet, either.
To recap: Swiss authorities on Thursday arrested Alfredo Hawit and Juan Angel Napout, the heads of Concacaf and Commebol, respectively, on suspicion of accepting millions in bribes. The pair now joins their predecessors, Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner, and Eugenio Figueredo and Nicolas Leoz, in facing extradition to the U.S. on racketeering, conspiracy and corruption charges.
The funny thing about Hawit and Napout’s arrests is that exactly one day earlier, the pair were quoted in press release in which they touted the clear and transparent manner in which the Copa Centenario’s media and sponsorship rights would be sold by the competition’s commercial rights winners, SUM and IMG.
Indeed, not only did the marketing agencies’ combined bid win the contract at a cut-rate price compared to what it was originally sold for, but the winners also agreed to release a request for proposal (RFP) to prospective buyers. Imagine that! As USSoccerPlayers’ J Hutcherson notes: “In other words, it took multiple scandals and back door deals for soccer's governing bodies in North, Central, and South America to adopt standard business practices.”
As you might recall, the commercial rights for the Copa Centenario were originally awarded to sports marketing company Datisa but that deal was later rescinded after Datisa’s main shareholders were indicted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into corruption inside world soccer -- the same event that brought down former Concacaf presidents Webb and Warner, and former Conmebol presidents Figueredo and Leoz, among others.
Three of the shareholders, Alejandro Burcazo, Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano Jinkis, allegedly paid $110 million in bribes to officials from Concacaf, Conmebol and South American federations for the rights to this tournament as well as three other Copa Americas.
As a result, it looked for a while like the Copa Centenario might not happen. But then again, maybe because not having a big once-in-a-lifetime event like the Copa Centenario benefits absolutely no one in organized soccer, the show found a way to go on. Luckily, the U.S. Soccer Federation made the cancellation of contracts with Datisa and other deals a condition of keeping the tournament in the USA, where it will surely generate the most money.
Of course, all this is in the past now, and, on Thursday, U.S. Soccer was quick to shoot down the possibility that Hawit and Napout’s arrests and the indictment of 16 others would have any affect on the forthcoming tournament: “Today's events involving individual members of Concacaf and Commebol in no way pierce the integrity of the rigorous safeguards the United States Soccer Federation required before agreeing to host Copa America Centenario that ensure the tournament is organized and conducted in a way that is open, transparent and above reproach,” its statement read. The USSF also noted that those arrested were not involved in the committee that governs the Copa Centenario.
Fair enough, but now that the last three presidents of the confederations that dreamed up, organized and sold the rights to the Copa Centenario have been arrested on corruption, conspiracy and racketeering charges directly related to the same event, don’t you think that now might be the right time to call it off instead of trying to reassure everyone that there’s really nothing to see here?