Los Canaleros were moments from advancing to the final before a dubious penalty kick was called against them by an American referee that led to a 2-1 extra-time loss to Mexico. Panama’s players posed with a banner after the match calling CONCACAF “corruptos ladrones” — corrupt thieves, and Panamanian Football Federation President Pedro Chaluja said two days later: “We feel that that game was fixed.”
By the weekend, CONCACAF’s new president issued a statement saying referee Mark Geiger accepted officiating errors were made, Panama’s players arrived at their third-place match wearing T-shirts that read “La dignidad no se compra” — “Dignity isn’t bought.”
Mexico went on to win its seventh Gold Cup title with a 3-1 victory over Jamaica on Sunday night. But is there any way to know for sure skulduggery didn’t alter the outcome?
“There are mistakes inside the pitch. The players, the referees … Everybody can fail,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said, rejecting the notion. “But considering that there is corruption behind the CONCACAF organization is different. This should be checked.”
CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, has become known for corruption as much as soccer, the shadiest region of a sport in which scandal is standard and honesty almost an exception. Two years ago, it even admitted the organization failed to file U.S. federal income tax returns from 2007-11, causing CONCACAF to lose its tax-exempt status. And its taxable business affiliate, CONCACAF Marketing & TV, didn’t pay taxes or file returns from its inception in 2003 through 2011.
CONCACAF’s previous two presidents are under indictment following the U.S. federal government’s investigation of soccer, which has produced charges of racketeering, bribery and money laundering. Chuck Blazer, its general secretary from 1990-2013, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and income tax evasion. His successor, Enrique Sanz, has been provisionally banned by FIFA after the indictment listed a coconspirator whose work history matches that of Sanz.
Jack Warner, CONCACAF’s president from 1990-11, and Jeffrey Webb, elected in 2012, both were indicted.
Alfredo Hawit, who took over from Webb on May 28, has been a Wizard of Oz-like figure, keeping intact the organization’s institutional opacity. His name appears in statements, but he has not publicly discussed the tournament.
After Webb was arrested May 27 while attending the FIFA congress in Zurich, CONCACAF appointed a three-man committee to oversee business operations: U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, Mexican Football Federation President Justino Compean and Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani. A month later, it hired Alvarez & Marsal, a management consulting firm, to assess operations.
On the eve of the tournament, CONCACAF’s executive committee announced a “reform framework” that requires some independent executive committee members, mandates term limits and calls for the release of public financial statements and exco compensation. Yet, there is no indication when these changes will be put in place and whether they apply solely to CONCACAF or also will be applicable to its affiliates.
Webb did not attend the final at Lincoln Financial Field, an event he launched with a news conference at the stadium on March 12. Under the terms of his release on bond, he must reside within 20 miles of the federal court house in Brooklyn in New York, and may leave his residence only with written approval by the FBI and Office of Pretrial Services.