Despite FIFA scandal, the show goes on for South American soccer

Fri Jul 3, 2015 3:08pm EDT
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By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When Chile hosts Argentina on Saturday in the final of the quadrennial Copa America tournament, little may seem out of the ordinary unless the home team, which has never won a major soccer competition, pulls off an upset.

Behind the scenes, though, it is a wonder the event came off.

The tournament's organizer, the grouping for South America's national soccer federations, is scrambling for financing and fretting over the fate of senior officials, many of whom were indicted or described as “co-conspirators” in the ongoing U.S. probe into corruption in the world's most popular sport.

Also, the top three executives of the confederation's key partner are under arrest. The company purchased marketing rights for this and the next three Copa America tournaments, and the executives are accused of masterminding a bribery scheme involving $110 million in promised kickbacks.

Somehow, the 12-nation tournament still proceeded, just two weeks after U.S. prosecutors unveiled their indictments.

What's more, none of the many broadcasters, sponsors or other third parties with contracts for the future Copa Americas have cut ties with the tournament.

Despite corruption at the bodies that govern soccer, fans find the sport irresistible. Because the alleged fraud has not been linked to the many third parties at Copa America, it is business as usual for most companies.

“If you yourself did not break the law and you believe that you signed a valid contract, you have no real incentive to change it,” says one Europe-based attorney and expert on media rights, who requested anonymity because in the past he advised FIFA, soccer's global governing body, on television contracts.   Continued...

People walk past a street vendor with masks depicting Chile's soccer player Alexis Sanchez in Santiago, Chile, July 3, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins