The organizers of next year’s special, centennial-edition of the South American Copa América tournament that’s being held in the United States need to make all the games free if they are to win back fans’ collective faith in the wake of still more arrests of top soccer officials.
CONCACAF president Alfredo Hawit of Honduras became the third current or former president of the North American confederation to be arrested since May. The president of South America’s CONMEBOL, Juan Angel Napout, was also taken into custody by Swiss authorities last week.
Both await extradition after being charged by U.S. authorities along with 14 additional senior FIFA officials during the sweep. After initially fighting it, Napout consented to his extradition at a police hearing on Tuesday, Switzerland's justice ministry announced.
Swiss prosecutors said the two men are accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes. The bribes are said to do with marketing rights for the Copa América, including the centennial tournament, as well as World Cup qualifying matches and other tournaments in Latin America.
Enough is enough. Fans need some payback – literally.
TV rights and sponsorship should alone make this Copa América a financial bonanza for those involved, so why not open a ticket lottery to fans living in the countries affected by the wrongdoing – basically, all those governed by CONCACAF and CONMEBOL – and let them go to the games on their confederation’s dime?
A press release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice hints at where some additional cash might come from to put into effect a universal ticket dispersal.
“As previously announced last May, all money forfeited by the defendants is being held in reserve to ensure its availability to satisfy any order of restitution entered at sentencing for the benefit of any individuals or entities that qualify as victims of the defendants’ crimes under federal law,” the release read.
At a press conference later that day, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was asked to identify the victims. She answered, “This corruption essentially hurts those people who participate in the game as well as the organization itself.”
Just a day before their arrests, Hawit and Napout were boasting to reporters about a new sponsorship and media rights package for next year’s Copa.
The Wall Street Journal announced that IMG and Soccer United Marketing had won the right to sell the sponsorship and media rights for the centennial Copa América. (Neither company is accused of wrongdoing.)
The paper quoted Hawit as saying that he was “proud of the new bid process that will ensure that soccer fans from around the globe will enjoy what we expect to be a once in-a-lifetime event.”
As for Napout, talk about poetic justice. The WSJ quoted him as saying this was his federation’s first time participating in a “request for proposals” process – as opposed to the sort of secret backroom deal so vividly detailed in the May indictment.
Napout also said the commitment to conducting business this way was “an integral part of the governance reforms taking place at CONMEBOL in order to ensure transparency and benefit all our member associations.”
Free tickets, now!
Video of the week
It was double overtime when Adam Najem sent the University of Akron into the NCAA College Cup final with this sweet free kick that beat Creighton, 3-2, last week.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Najem said he visualized his winning goal while he slept.
From the wires
Mexico has avoided any threat of suspension from the Olympics after the IOC found no evidence that the government was interfering in the work of sports federations.
Pere Miro, the IOC's deputy director general of relations with the Olympic movement, said Tuesday the Mexican government has assured the International Olympic Committee that it respects the autonomy of national sports bodies and will not meddle in their leadership.
The IOC opposes political interference and says governments should respect the autonomy of the Olympic movement.
Mexican sports officials had expressed concern the country could be suspended by the IOC and miss next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro because of a conflict with the government. The sports bodies are facing financial inspections by a national government agency, which is questioning how funds are being spent.
But Miro said the IOC has determined "there is no case" of interference, adding that the government's request for sports federations to justify their spending was perfectly legitimate.
Miro, speaking on the sidelines of an IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, said he would report his findings to the board on Wednesday.
In late October, the IOC suspended Kuwait's national Olympic committee over government interference, leaving the gulf country's athletes in limbo for the Rio Games.
But Miro said Mexico was not in the same situation.
"We don't believe there is an important problem or a conflict with the Olympic Charter or autonomy," he said. "The government has requested to some national federations to justify the money the government has given to them. That is more than legitimate. This is completely fine."
The only concern was not with "facts," but with some statements by government officials suggesting that they could replace some sports federation leaders, Miro said.
"This they cannot do," he said. "This would be interference in the autonomy."
Alfredo Castillo, head of Mexico's National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports, has been critical of the Olympic Charter, calling it "the best invention that has been created to avoid monitoring of how public money is spent."
Miro said there has been an exchange of letters between the IOC and a high-level Mexican minister in charge of sports, who told the Olympic body that the government would continue questioning sports spending but would also "respect completely the autonomy."
"The letter of the minister is very satisfactory." Miro said. "If they act as they say, for us it's absolutely fine."
The IOC has asked the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee and the secretary general of the Pan American Sports Organization to mediate in case of any dispute between the government and sports bodies.
Mexico won the men's soccer gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, beating Brazil 2-1 in the final. Mexico won a total of seven medals, including three silver and three bronze.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.