The Re-Branding Of CONCACAF

I have a confession to make.  I like soccer [1].  I like it enough to have enjoyed watching it in sports bars, and enough to have seen a couple of games of the 2008 Olympic Qualifying tournament for North & Central America and the Caribbean when it was hosted in Tampa, where I then lived.  I keep track of cup races, of continental championships like the Gold Cup, and enjoy looking at qualifying for the World Cup.  And, of course, I enjoy watching the World Cup, especially when it is played in an elegant and beautiful fashion. I am not a particularly skilled soccer player, but when I played the game as a child I was a gritty defender focused on clearing the ball away from my goalie, and I was at least moderately competent in that task, even given my liabilities as an athlete.  That said, soccer in North America is in a sad state.  Since qualifying for the 2018 World Cup began in the region in 2015, there have been three people in charge of the region, which is named CONCACAF, and the first two were indicted for various charges related to corruption within the game. The region as a whole has a few teams that are well-regarded within the world, like Mexico and the United States, and a lot of minnows whose rankings are near the bottom within the world as a whole.

It is not surprising in the least, given this context, that the new head of CONCACAF thinks that soccer needs a new brand and a new reputation, which in his eyes means both a new qualifying procedure for the continent as well as a new name for the region [2].  As far as the new name is concerned, unless soccer becomes a lot less corrupt, the name is not going to matter a great deal.  One should not believe that this will happen easily or overnight, not least because soccer offers a great deal of money and there are a lot of poor nations to fight over the spoils.  Given the disparity between the few powerful nations in soccer and the large number of nations that make up the region, it is hard to craft qualifying and monetary efforts that work for the benefit of the game and not only for the elites in charge of soccer in the region.  This is true around the world, but since it is a problem close to home, we need to deal with our own house before we seek to reform the world at large.

The suggestion to change the qualifying, though, has a lot of merit. The current qualifying for the World Cup in North America amounts to a long slog where many smaller nations play hardly any games that would have a chance to improve their rankings and therefore improve the view of soccer within the world as a whole. By having so many teams with rankings so low, unable to play meaningful games in between short stints in qualifying for the World Cup, even the more powerful nations of the region are hurt by playing games against teams with low rankings.  The rounds of soccer qualifying in the region culminate in the hexagonal, where the top six teams play, and where half of them automatically qualify while the fourth-ranked team plays a team from another continent like Asia or South America (depending on the year) to possibly qualify for another spot.  It is quite possible that the general state of soccer in the continent will be helped by having a qualifying campaign that allows everyone to play more games, and that especially allows lesser nations the chance to have more meaningful games that allow for rankings to improve and for the state of the game to improve.

Given the large amount of teams that are in the region, it appears likely that the change will not involve all of the continent’s teams being in one large group, as is the case in South America with COMNEBOL’s ten teams playing home and home against all of the other teams in the region where half of the teams stand a good chance to go to the World Cup.  In North America a far smaller percentage is able to go to the World Cup, which means that the most likely solution that would allow for more games for minnows and mid-tier soccer nations that might improve the soccer scene as a whole is for a two-step qualifying process.  First, divide the continent’s teams into a certain number of groups, likely between 4 and 10 groups, where the top team or top two teams, depending on how many groups there are, move on to a final qualifying tournament like the existing hexagonal, but where the teams involved have a lot more games to play to demonstrate ability and to obtain funding from television contracts.  To be sure, games played between St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Anguilla are not likely to draw a lot of fans or a lot of television viewers, but if those teams and others are able to consistently play good teams like the United States or Costa Rica or even Canada and Cuba and Haiti, the result is likely to be better for the entire region as a whole.

So, what does this have to do with anything else?  Those institutions that have a bad name because of the conduct of prior leaders can think to change the names they operate under in order to have a good chance.  But also, there are many times where acting to make life better for the little people or the little nations also makes life better for those who are already doing well.  Would anyone in the United States or Mexico or other regional soccer powers have a problem allowing the littler soccer nations to play more games and raise their own profile?  Helping the region as a whole helps those nations gain more prominence and possibly more spots for the region as a whole.  If that means that more teams are able to rise to the place of soccer powers, all the better. Are Europe or South America hurt by having more soccer powers among themselves?  Not in the least. Does it benefit them to play more games against quality teams and to be able to keep fresh by playing meaningful games on a regular basis?  Without a doubt.  Would many nations benefit by being able to play games against solid competition, including the United States?  Yes.  So why not do it? Why not let the little minnows play enough games that they might be able to improve their game by drawing upon at least a few positive outcomes over the course of a longer campaign rather than find their World Cup qualifying experience end in one home and away campaign against a team against whom they are hopelessly overmatched, without any ability to improve over time?  Sometimes being just to the little nations makes life better for more powerful ones, and those opportunities should be treasured whenever possible.  For fans of the beautiful game, a stronger continental soccer game is better for everyone involved–for players, for nations, and for fans who want to see our own teams have a bigger profile and a better reputation in the world at large.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/book-review-outcasts-united/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/piglets-at-the-feeding-trough/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/futbol-fever/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/games-people-play/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/giving-credit-where-credit-is-due-the-vuvuzela/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/and-then-ill-go-and-spoil-it-all-by-saying-something-stupid/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/on-brackets-and-requirements-the-difference-between-relative-and-absolute-standards/

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/dcunited/concacaf-to-overhaul-archaic-world-cup-qualifying-format/2016/10/09/cbc33934-8e23-11e6-bc00-1a9756d4111b_story.html

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to The Re-Branding Of CONCACAF

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