Sport

CONCACAF's 'League of Nations' scores big with Caribbean stakeholders

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Monday, November 20, 2017

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So far, so good.

Even without the finer details available, CONCACAF's all-nations league, to be contested by its 41 members, seems to be enjoying resounding approval across the confederation and particularly in the Caribbean subset.

On Thursday the football grouping, which governs football in North and Central America and the Caribbean, announced what it has called the “League of Nations” — a three-tier promotion and relegation-based international competition to start next September.

Newly elected president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) Mike Ricketts was quick on the draw when he gave the new tournament the proverbial thumbs up.

“I believe it will serve the CONCACAF nations well. What is clear is that it will keep the countries active and this will be an opportunity to market your football product, and you could now seek to partner with sponsors in a formal competition.

“It seems to me that these games will be played mainly during the FIFA window, but teams could always play friendlies outside of the window. But overall, this competition will serve us well and smaller nations will now be exposed to playing against bigger nations within CONCACAF,” he said.

More than any category of nations within the confederation, the competition-starved tiny island nations of the Caribbean seem set to be the biggest winners.

Grenada football boss Cheney Joseph welcomed the new developments with open arms.

“The idea of the CONCACAF Nation's Cup, in my opinion, is a positive step for the game, as it now allows smaller nations to dream big and to work towards those dreams.

“I think it is the right way to go, but we must look and see whether or not there are areas to improve on... I am very supportive of the idea and we can now look forward to something big in the future.

“I am also hoping that CONCACAF and FIFA will lend their resources to some of us to develop coaches and players in our region, and so hopefully the future of this tournament in another four years should be good,” he said from his homeland yesterday.

President of the US Virgin Islands Soccer Federation Hillaren Frederick is already salivating at the prospects way before a ball is even kicked.

“The new CONCACAF Nations League is pretty interesting and it's something everyone is looking forward to. The thinking and feeling from FIFA is that they want to make sure that friendly matches are more meaningful and they want to cut back on the number of friendlies.

“CONCACAF has a feeling that all countries need to be playing more matches, so this new competition is going to help a lot of Caribbean countries — moreso the smaller countries like mine who don't play a lot of international matches due to financing and stuff like that,” he told the Jamaica Observer on Sunday.

The tournament, which will be played during the official FIFA calendar window and will serve as a qualifier to the Gold Cup, will be financed in the main by CONCACAF.

“It will all be financed through CONCACAF, where they will give you an initial deposit to take care of each home game and they will give you the go-ahead to talk to your local sponsors so they could sponsor you. All in all, it's a very good tournament,” expressed Frederick.

CONCACAF boss, the Canadian Victor Montagliani, told the Observer by telephone that the finer details of the competition will be announced at a grand launch planned for February next, in either the US metropolis of Miami or New York.

“Everything is pretty much done, but we will making a big announcement with format and all that, as some things are better left for a surprise,” he noted.

The businessman Montagliani revealed that the scheduling of the tournament will limit, but will not prevent member associations from scheduling friendly internationals with opponents from outside the confederations.

“The format will allow for other friendlies to be played as well so there will be a good balance in the schedule, but we have to keep in mind that friendly dates will not be as available because of the UEFA Nations League as they will be limited for everybody, but there will still be opportunities for friendlies,” he said.

According to CONCACAF, its “League of Nations” is designed to “maximise the quality, quantity and frequency of competitive matches for all member associations”.

The unifying competition will be based on a league structure in which the national teams of the confederation's 41 members will be divided into three different leagues, based on their sporting level.

“To seed teams into their respective leagues, the League of Nations will begin with a preliminary series of matches played across four different dates, beginning in September 2018.

“The new tournament will bring meaningful home and away matches featuring competition for League titles, performance prizes, and will include promotion and relegation within the system of three leagues,” a press release frrom CONCACAF outlined.

The League of Nations will also serve as a qualifier for CONCACAF's marquee tournament, the Gold Cup. “Additionally, the League of Nations will inform a CONCACAF ranking system that will be used as the basis for future World Cup qualifying seeding,” the release went on.

Montagliani, who takes particular pride in the new tournament for its development value, said the process of crafting the League of Nations took a year of broad-based, inclusive consultation with all stakeholders.

“This is a watershed moment for CONCACAF. By focusing on football to provide all our teams with year-round, quality competition, the League of Nations platform means everyone wins,” said CONCACAF's boss.

“This new tournament is highly beneficial to all our member associations and fans everywhere, since it provides significant opportunities to play important, competitive matches with increased regularity throughout the year,” he ended.

The new league fits into Montagliani's One CONCACAF vision, where nations that haven't historically been top performers will benefit from a wider window of opportunity, not only for competitive matches, but for gaining access to top-level international competitions.

That increased participation is expected to spur regional development and keep “the dream of international football alive year-round for more nations”.

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