Soccer….Family Style

Is What’s Wrong With CONCACAF Gold Cup Right for America?
July 5, 2011, 9:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Soccer has a new movement bubbling up throughout the land. In the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we sent more fans to South Africa than any other nation, in spite of a lackluster economy and 24+ hour flight to get there. You would think that we could use the CONCACAF Gold Cup to continue building that soccer movement across the country. Judging by what I’ve heard, that may not be the case.

I understand, Gold Cup is about making money. We don’t really need to know the CONCACAF champion every 2 years, but the tournament makes money. It’s crazy that we picked our representative for the 2013 Confederations Cup last weekend, only to pick a champion again immediately following the 2013 Confederations tournament. But soccer doesn’t have to make sense if it makes money. With the US hosting, it makes money: we have the big stadiums, disposable income, and diverse population to make the Gold Cup a money-making powerhouse.

But at what cost? I think Tim Howard was appropriately pissed off that the awards ceremony was not appropriately formal. His words were more like “CONCACAF should be ashamed of themselves. I think it’s a [expletive] disgrace that the entire post-game ceremony was in Spanish. You can bet your ass if we were in Mexico City, it wouldn’t be all in English.” Soccer Nation reported that the rehearsal was much more in English, and perhaps announcer Fernado Fiore, got excited in his home teams epic win and forgot the English part, but the award giving as a result wasn’t very ceremonious, as Howard eloquently points out, it was quite disrespectful to the host nation.

And the disrespect was rampant in the supporters section as well. I spoke with several fans who felt that security was lacking to non-existent, both inside the stadium and at the tailgate. Most US supporters I spoke with had reasonable expectations of the game environment. Longtime supporter of US Soccer Kirsten Heimlich summed it up, “I knew it would be crazy, I knew we’d be outnumbered, but I never expected to be treated that way in my own country.” Most of the fans from both sides were cordial and enjoying the rivalry, but when tempers flared, the security was completely inadequate to handle the violence and threats that developed. One family left while the score was 1-0, after being threatened that their children (pre-teens) would be murdered for screaming “Go USA.” Glass bottles were allowed into the stadium, and were thrown at US supporters, through the stadium checkpoints that often had no pat downs or bag checks.

Co-Presidents of the American Outlaws Davis Chapter (a supporters group for US Soccer), Russell Jordan and Evan Ream, attended the game and tailgate together. Jordan wrote the blog post “A Letter to US Soccer From a Concerned Fan” detailing the threats and violence they experienced that day, including a bottle being thrown at Ream’s head during the tailgate. They also noted that there was little organization or direction as the supporter’s marched into the stadium and multiple incidences of violence and objects being thrown from the Mexican fans that resulted in US fans getting injured within the supporters section.

Perhaps most shocking is the reaction of stadium security and officials to these acts. Traveling around the world to games, I have been subjected to more thorough pat downs and screenings to enter soccer games than at most airports. And I’ve been to US vs Mexico games managed by US Soccer and Azteca Stadium where I felt my safety was never in question. But the lack of preparedness at the Rose Bowl is appalling. For security to tell fans trying to report violence to turn around and watch the game is a horrifying lack of professionalism. Jordan told me that it had been reported to him that in the 75th minute, 5 security guards left the section in fear for their own safety, that is evidence of a serious problem with the entities producing the event, CONCACAF and the Rose Bowl. It should be noted that Jordan is a 21 year old personal trainer who is 6’2”, 230 pounds. If he doesn’t feel safe, what hope is there for a mother with her young children.

Photographer Douglas Zimmerman wrote a scathing indictment of the US Soccer fans for not supporting their team for the full 90 minutes. I asked him if he thought the fans were quieted by the threats and violence before and during the game. He explained that as an experienced soccer fan, he’d seen worse games, and felt the fans at this game were too intimidated by the rivalry, and that it wasn’t as bad as other games around the CONCACAF region. He said “I was hit in the head, but it wasn’t that bad.”

But this isn’t another place around CONCACAF, this is in California. I agree with Zimmerman and everyone else that I spoke to, it’s embarrassing as a supporter of American soccer to be so devastatingly outnumbered on our home field, and I do want to hear our supporters for the full 90. Can we really expect supporters, many of whom have very little to no experience with rivalry games on the level of US vs Mexico in the Gold Cup final, with no protection from stadium authorities, to feel comfortable supporting at all? When pressed, Zimmerman did admit that he didn’t think it was a safe environment for children. How can we be expected to grow soccer in this country, when CONCACAF brings a game with such a strong rivalry, puts it in the stadium with arguably the highest probability for volatility, and then refuses to direct the financial and manpower resources to protect the supporters at the event?

Reading the reports of this game, I found myself asking the question “At what point do we say thanks, but no thanks” to CONCACAF when it comes to hosting the Gold Cup? Is it worth the damage done, those fans that may never come to another US game because they don’t understand that it’s not usually like this? I think that if CONCACAF wants to take advantage of our huge stadiums and high profit hosting ability, we have the right to demand a few things in return.

We should have the right to demand the highest level of security at all games, but especially the most contentious final between arch-rivals. We have the right to demand marketing, in English, so that our hosting benefits the US and our growing fan base as much as it benefits CONCACAF. And while I understand the reasoning for not allowing the US to play Mexico until the final, I find that contrived schedule absurd. To play two games versus Panama was lame. No one cares that the US defeating the USSR in 1980 happened in a semi final game. Set a schedule for interesting games throughout. But first and foremost, we have the right to properly secured stadiums with appropriately trained and sufficiently staffed security people at the events.

I realize that it is an honor to host the Gold Cup, CONCACAF needs to raise their production professionalism several notches to make this event as beneficial to US Soccer as it is to CONCACAF.

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