Clubs Threaten to Walk Out of Top Soccer Event in Cash Dispute

  • Clubs want 150% hike in Libertadores income amid Fox deal
  • South American soccer worst hit in FIFA corruption scandal

South America’s leading clubs have warned the continent’s beleaguered soccer body that they will pull out of one of the sport’s top tournaments if they do not get a 150 percent increase in income from the Copa Libertadores.

Clubs are balking at an offer of a 40 percent increase in prize and participation money after the regional body known as Conmebol agreed to a new contract with Fox Sports in November. The U.S. Justice Department in May charged that a previous agreement to televise the event involving a wholly separate group of companies had been based on bribery.

The Department of Justice’s case has rocked soccer, creating chaos at the global governing body FIFA and forcing its longtime president, Sepp Blatter, from office. Conmebol is expected to name Paraguayan Alejandro Dominguez as its latest president following the December arrest of compatriot Juan Angel Napout, who became the third Conmebol head to be implicated in the sprawling soccer corruption scandal since May. Domiguez declined to speak with the media, saying he’d comment after the election Tuesday in which he’s the only candidate.

"We have a deadline of Feb 3. If they don’t give us the new prices, we don’t play the Libertadores Cup,” Marco Trovato, president of Paraguay’s Olimpia, said in an interview after several club leaders met Conmebol’s executive committee close to the country’s airport on the outskirts of the capital, Ascuncion.

Trovato said the new television contract for the Libertadores and the second-tier Copa Sul-Americana is worth about $135 million. He said that represents at least double the amount of the previous agreement.

"Right now they are giving 40 percent, but they have to bring that money up to 150 percent because they don’t need that extra money,” Trovato said. His team was a finalist in the 2013 edition of the tournament. He said club officials will meet again with Conmebol on Thursday when the regional body will explain its own financial needs.

Financial Mismatch

South America produces some of the best soccer players on the planet, yet its clubs are unable to keep hold of them because of the financial power of rivals in Europe. Lionel Messi, an Argentine who this month was named the world’s best player for a fifth time, is joined in European champion Barcelona’s attack by Brazil’s Neymar and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. The three are among the highest paid athletes in the sport.

"This money is for the work of the clubs -- we need to be able to retain our players,” said Daniel Angelici, president of Argentina’s Boca Juniors, one of the most-popular teams in South America.

No region has been as severely affected by the soccer scandal than South America. Current and former leaders of all 10 countries that make up Conmebol have been indicted by U.S. authorities.

A plaque in the lobby of the Conmebol-owned hotel where Monday’s meeting took place lists 11 officials who were with the group when the facility opened in 2011. All but one of them has been implicated in the graft scheme. 

"We are the creators of the very best players in the world and this is very embarrassing for us,” said Trovoto.