Athlone poses the question: is it time for the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to force a breakaway move from CONCACAF and become the seventh confederation within FIFA?
Note: These comments originally appeared on the Big Soccer Forum.
Americas-wide WCQ isn’t politically feasible
Combining CONCACAF and CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying (WCQ) isn’t a politically feasible idea. Venezuela floated the plan because it quite obviously benefits them and other non-elite CONMEBOL sides (they get access to additional berths indirectly via CONCACAF), but more broadly there’s not a lot of support in CONMEBOL for this plan.
There’s no guarantee that the ‘big three’ in the region (Mexico, USA and Costa Rica) or the UNCAF would support this. But even if they did, there’s virtual certainty that the CFU would oppose – they don’t gain anything from a merger. It seems some have just kind of taken their acquiescence as a given and started projecting groups accordingly, but in reality any sort of merger would require CONCACAF’s majority to sign off. Let’s not forget that the CFU alone accounts for two thirds of CONCACAF. People who think Caribbeans are going to vote to enter a scenario where they get to feature permanently in groups like this: Argentina, USA, St Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, St Lucia and Anguilla or Brazil, USA, Jamaica, Bolivia, El Salvador and Belize are pretty badly mistaken.
That’s a bad deal for them and they know it. The only way a merger happens is if the deal included some sort of method to provide guaranteed World Cup berth(s) for the CFU and probably the UNCAF as well. Short of that, this is a non-starter.
There are two vastly superior alternatives – from the CFU’s perspective – on the table.
- Number one. Keep CONCACAF by itself with 6.5 total berths for everyone.
- Number two. Keep CONCACAF by itself and negotiate separate qualifying for the Caribbean.
Caribbean Football Union independence
I had a feeling this scenario would be possible once CONCACAF got a sufficient number of berths. Thinking about it now, it does seem quite plausible. Here’s why…
There are 10 teams in CONCACAF outside of the CFU. CONCACAF as a whole now is set to get 6.5 berths. Selling independence to the rest of CONCACAF isn’t terribly difficult for the CFU, at least on first glance. If the CFU asks for 1.5 berths for their 25 FIFA affiliated countries, they leave 5 remaining berths for everyone else (6.5 – 1.5 = 5).
In theory, this actually benefits the rest of CONCACAF – they get what is on paper a better than 50% chance of qualification every cycle and remove the need to travel to the Caribbean as well. For Mexico, the USA, and Costa Rica, qualification odds don’t change much. For nations below those 3, the removal of Caribbean rivals who regularly compete with and take points off of them is a pretty big bonus. Canada, for example, is always working to climb into the top 5. That theoretically gets easier with the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti and Jamaica out of the picture, as those nations have a habit of getting in the way regularly. Same goes for nations like Guatemala, who are regularly forced out of the picture by Jamaica and T&T.
Thus, I think this could be sold to CONCACAF broadly. It does no harm to the big 3 (their odds of qualification remain improved with just the 5 berths) and the rest of the region removes key rivals and annoying away games, improving their individual odds of qualification and enhancing their competitiveness.
This also has the potential to solve an issue CONCACAF will face with expansion: what to replace the Hex with. With 6.5 berths, a Hex makes no sense. But CONCACAF likes the Hex format because it guarantees the money-minting USA-Mexico and Costa Rica-USA/Mexico-Costa Rica matches that viewers prefer to see. It’s harder to see how CONCACAF manages that with 35 sides competing for 6.5 berths.
Non-Caribbean CONCACAF could adopt South American style WCQ
But if CONCACAF splits in the manner I’m projecting – 1.5 for the CFU, 5 for the other 10 nations – this problem can easily be solved. With just 10 teams, the non-Caribbean sector of CONCACAF could run a qualification cycle similar to the very popular format CONMEBOL runs right now – a round-robin style that almost resembles a nations league. It would be fairly competitive too even without the CFU powers, and it would be better for spinning money since some of the less popular matches against CFU teams (who, form a USA/Mexico/Canada media industry perspective don’t draw as many supporters on the road or present matches that are as compelling to casual viewers, even if they’ve got quality) would no longer factor in.
All of the time nations like the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras spend in the early rounds of qualifying competing against nations like St Vincent & the Grenadines and Antigua & Barbuda would be replaced by many far more appealing matches against one another (eg: Honduras vs Mexico and USA vs Costa Rica). This is a dream from a broadcasters perspective – they get multiple USA/Mexico games and eliminate all the fixtures that they can’t sell. I can see the American/Mexican/Canadian media getting behind this move, along with the sponsors. The American and Mexican federations could get behind it for the same reasons, since broadcast revenues figure heavily into their profits and would rise in this scenario with no relatively low-appeal CFU matches on their schedule. This format would also guarantee that the money-minting USA/Mexico fixtures continue indefinitely.
Guaranteed Caribbean representation at every World Cup
Meanwhile, the Caribbean gains guaranteed representation of one team at every World Cup by striking out on its own, with the potential to send a second if that team can take out an AFC side in any given cycle. That might be quite a worthwhile investment for a region that historically hasn’t seen much representation at World Cup level – Cuba (1938), Haiti (1974), Jamaica (1998) and T&T (2006) are the only past Caribbean representatives at the tournament. It would not only be a financial game-changer, but it would be quite massive for exposure and the regional profile/reputation as well. The CFU would be put on the map with a representative or two in every World Cup.
In short, it looks like everyone wins. The CFU gets a clear path to the World Cup prize and guaranteed exposure at that level every cycle, plus higher TV revenues. This is a serious issue – the corruption take-downs did a big number on my country Jamaica and many others in the region with its disruption of revenue streams; Jamaica suddenly couldn’t pay their German coach Winfried Schafer as a result of this, and the associated drama helped to derail the 2018 campaign. Meanwhile, non-Caribbean CONCACAF gets a more appealing qualifying format with less time spent on annoying away trips to the Caribbean and better odds of qualifying without the Caribbean powers to compete with.
The potential drawbacks
Fifa members close to consensus on distribution of new World Cup places – final decision on that likely in May pic.twitter.com/h4MhRpIpQZ
— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) January 10, 2017
Of course, there’s a flip-side here. CFU nations might rightfully presume that in a united CONCACAF with 6.5 berths they could place up to 3 teams in a good cycle where they have their act together. It’s happened before – both Jamaica and T&T have come in the top 3, and with 6.5 berths it wouldn’t be shocking to see one of those two at #3 in one cycle and 2 more at #6 and #7). On their own, however, they max out at 2. The guaranteed representation comes at the cost of a lower ceiling.
Also, there’s a loss of value in qualifiers. There would be no more big away games against the USA and Mexico to help fill coffers. The rest of CONCACAF is probably better off without having to face CFU teams in qualifiers, but the CFU actually benefits more from those matches than others. The revenue could probably be replaced, but some thought would need to be given here.
Still, though, I see a lot of potential for this suggestion to gain traction because, again, everyone seems to win here.
Thank you for reading! Is this is a good idea or a bad idea in your opinion? Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. You can check out Athlone on Twitter @AthloneRB. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.