A need for greater financial rewards means the end could be nigh for the Copa América, the world’s oldest continental tournament
The writing was already on the wall when CONMEBOL opted to celebrate the centenary of its historic Copa América tournament in the unfamiliar surroundings of the United States, perhaps even earlier with the string of geographical anomalies invited since the 1990s.
But amid talks of further invitees for next year’s edition in Brazil before an eventual merge with northern neighbours CONCACAF, the Copa América as we know it is slipping away.
Aside from Brazil hosting the 46th edition of the Copa América in 2019, nothing is yet confirmed but by the end of the month everything should be clear and it would appear that what that means is another 16-team tournament featuring nations from around the globe.
Thankfully premature talk of Portugal or Spain being invited now looks wide of the mark but joining the ten CONMEBOL nations will be three from CONCACAF and three more from Asia.
Mexico and the United States will be two of those and at the request of CONCACAF, a third will be added while Qatar, South Korea, Japan, Australia and China are among the candidates from the Asian Federation.
Last summer’s Centenario, in which Chile triumphed, was expanded to 16 from 12 for the occasion, all the additional six nations from CONCACAF.
However, the tournament was played under a cloud of corruption and bribery that had followed since the dramatic raid in 2015 which exposed FIFA, and in particular, several of the high ranking officials behind bringing the Copa Centenario to the United States.
If the hope was that this would see the end of plans to expand the tournament, then bad news because 2019 is due to be the final Copa América in its current format.
2020 will head back to the United States for a new-look joint tournament with 20 nations coming together from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. A competition held every four years to coincide with its European equivalent in the middle of the World Cup’s quadrennial cycle.
If this is indeed the case it will be the end of the Copa América, a tournament that began in 1916 between Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil, and as the oldest competition of its kind would be a loss to the world of football.
If the Copa Centenario taught us anything it is that money talks and just as the first addition of nations from outside CONMEBOL in 1993, when Mexico and the United States travelled to Ecuador to compete, or in 1999 when Japan participated, the region has been looking for ways to boost interest and investment.
The advantage for Mexico and the United States in a CONCACAF region that doesn’t have the level of competition or marketing appeal is clear but for the South American nations, that would arrive at such a tournament as overwhelming favourites, it is nothing more than a money grab.
A return to a Copa América between the ten CONMEBOL nations, just as the wonderful youth tournaments are still organised, now looks doomed to the history books.