CONMEBOL courage in the face of adversity



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Icaro Nogueira on Coliseum LATAM Image: CONMEBOL

The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) is the continental governing body of football in South America and it is one of FIFA’s six continental confederations. The oldest continental confederation in the world, its headquarters are located in Luque, Paraguay, near Asunción. CONMEBOL is responsible for the organization and governance of South American football’s major international tournaments.

In an exclusive to ‘Coliseum’, Icaro Nogueira, Manager, Special Projects, CONMEBOL, Paraguay, narrates how the political turmoil in Chile resulted in a last-moment change of venue to Lima in Peru, which was a huge challenge before the governing body of football and yet they pulled off the whole spectacle with poise and panache. He also gives details of how COMEBOL has introduced the single-match format to offer fans a more enchanting experience.
 

CONMEBOL

The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) was established way back in July 9th, 1916. Ten countries are members of CONMEBOL – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The big-ticket events of CONMEBOL are Copa Libertadores.
 

Libertadores CONMEBOL Cup

The CONMEBOL Libertadores, also known as the Copa Libertadores de América, is an annual international club football competition organized by CONMEBOL since 1960. It is the highest level of competition in South American club football.
 

Copa Sudamericana

The CONMEBOL Sudamericana, named as Copa Sudamericana, is an annual international club football competition organized by CONMEBOL since 2002. It is the second-most prestigious club competition in South American football. Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) clubs were invited between 2004 and 2008.
 

Single match format

Icaro Nogueira informed that in 2019 the CONMEBOL decided to introduce the single match format – no first leg or single leg.

The 2019 Copa Libertadores Final was the final match which decided the winner of the 2019 Copa Libertadores, the 60th edition of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s top-tier continental club football tournament organized by CONMEBOL.

The match was played on November 23rd, 2019 at the 80,093-capacity Estadio Monumental in Lima, Peru, between Brazilian team Flamengo and the defending champions, River Plate from Argentina. This was the first Copa Libertadores final to be played as a single match at a neutral venue chosen in advance, replacing the previous home-and-away format.

Nogueira informed that the objective behind doing away with the single-match format was to “prevent any other company or bidder reaping rewards of the rights. Moreover, a single-match format also helps fans to enjoy a more exhilarating experience and also works to the advantage of the hosting City and the country.”

Added Nogueira, “However, the flip side of holding big soccer match as a single-game format is that the stadium operators and the hosting City has to take on the onerous task of holding the match as a single match and the infrastructure needs to sit in place and the services also needs to be adjusted accordingly.”

Nogueira informed that the week prior to the matchup was the most challenging one as the hosting country gets the perfect platform and they pull out all stops to showcase to the world the cultural and historical aspects of Latin America.

The 2021 Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores will also be played as a single match at a venue pre-selected by CONMEBOL with the higher-seeded team designated as the “home” team for administrative purposes.

The 2021 Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores is the 62nd edition of the CONMEBOL Libertadores. On May 13th, 2021, CONMEBOL announced that the final would be played at the 60,235-capacity Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, Uruguay on November 20th, 2021, but on July 27th, 2021 the final was eventually confirmed to have been rescheduled to November 27th, 2021.
 

Bidding process stages

The Cities that aspire to be Host Cities for the CONMEBOL soccer extravaganzas, Nogueira further informed that the process is “Replete with criteriums. We want the bidding Cities to boast crème de la crème standards so that fans who come from far off places can taste the best of South America and these soccer showpieces are also the best platform to demonstrate South America as a tourism destination per se.”
 

Seven-stage process:

  • Stage 1 – A list of the affiliate clubs are prepared and any City who offer itself as the Host City is told about the yardsticks they have to measure up to in order to hold the soccer show;
  • Stage 2 – Cities who bid for holding CONMEBOL soccer events are then apprised about the operational procedures involved;
  • Stage 3 – This is the documentation stage. CONMEBOL presents the proposal to the bidding Cities as per the request for proposal – a document that solicits proposal, often made through a bidding process. The bidding parties are also apprised about the guidelines laid down by the Government as “CONMEBOL needs the concerned authorities to sign to make a commitment”;
  • Stage 4 – The documents are evaluated and it is ensured that all the required information has been filled in by the bidding parties and then the cream of crop Cities are picked up;
  • Stage 5 – This is the operational stage and a CONMEBOL team visit the Cities selected and they take a look at the training facilities, locations, how streamlined is the flight service as well as the transportation network, and, of course, if the stadia are in mint condition;
  • Stage 6 – We ensure that the dossier information is up to the mark along with the request for proposal plus the field inspection resource; and
  • Stage 7 – A decision on the Host City is arrived at.

 
Nogueira stated that in 2021, as South America had major outbreaks as far as the coronavirus scourge is concerned, the above criterions were considered only in the final stage.
 

Dossier clauses

  • The capacity for a stadium should be 45,000 to stage a CONMEBOL Libertadores match;
  • The capacity for a stadium should be 35,000 for hosting a Copa Sudamericana fixture;
  • Pitch has to be in excellent condition; and
  • The stadium will have to be made available for the exclusive use of COMEBOL for the days when the matches are held and no other tournaments can be held in the facility.

 
He informed that if the facilities do not fulfill the above criteria, they cannot host the soccer spectacles.
 

Hospitality angle

Nogueira informed that the bidding City will have to boast cream of crop hotels to lodge the players, staffs, team executives, referees, and newsmen – “We do a thorough study if the bidding City hotels are able to measure up to the CONMEBOL standards. Moreover, we also take into consideration the training facilities so that the teams can practice hitch-free throughout the week prior to the fixtures.”

As a lot of stakeholders are involved in a soccer showpiece, CONMEBOL also ascertains that the flow of information is smooth and “we cannot leave any loopholes as the help of each stakeholder is needed to pull off smoothly such majestic events”.

To carry off an event of such a huge scale, CONMEBOL needs help from the local bodies, municipality and different levels of the Government machinery – “The flow of communication has to be impeccable so that the different departments involved are all in the loop and on the same page. The Host City will have to meet CONMEBOL standards.”

The CONMEBOL ensures that the turnout is huge in a soccer match irrespective of the weather conditions -be it searing heat or torrential rains though that is a huge challenge in itself.
 

Final CONMEBOL Sudamericana Asunción 2019

For CONMEBOL Sudamericana Asunción 2019, 40,000 visitors flocked the capital of Paraguay – “People came by cars, bicycles, flights, and some even came on horses! Hotels were filled to capacity and we had 6,000 security staff members from the Government and private companies, police and national police.”

He added, “We also had 1200m2 of television networking. And it was a windfall as far as the economical angle is concerned.”
 

CONMEBOL Libertadores Final Lima 2019

He informed that the CONMEBOL Libertadores Final Lima 2019 threw up a huge challenge as there was a last-minute change of venue due to political unrest in Santiago.

On October 25th, 2019, over 1.2 million people took to the streets of Santiago to protest against social inequality and demanded the resignation of the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, in what was called as “the biggest march of Chile”. Scores of people were injured and 29 people lost their lives in the political upheaval.

Stated Nogueira, “There was a last moment change of venue from Chile to Lima and we had to put up a pompous show and only had 18 days time in hand. It was sheer madness. This was tremendous challenge for us but we reaped huge economic benefits in the form of tourism inflow. With tourists visiting different places of Lima by the horde, we raked in the moolah in the form of tourism inflow to the tune of 62 million dollars. We reached 96 countries and last year, we generated 200 million dollars in the form of revenue.”
 

Challenges

  • Last-minute change of venue from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru, threw up major challenge in terms of organizing the game with much pomp and show but only in 18 days time!; and
  • COVID-19 which caused much ravages in South America also proved to be quite a handful as holding a soccer show amid the pandemic is quite a bit of a challenging task.

 
He informed that the final games in 2020 were carried off with élan despite the devastating effect of COVID-19.
 

To the rescue

The internal structure of CONMEBOL comprises different departments. The members and leagues support CONMEBOL by acting as the go-between the soccer body and the Government. This arrangement helps because when there is a change of venue at the last minute, quick and strategic decisions can be taken.

He informed that in Lima, the local Government was “Very helpful along with the other Government institutions and bend over backwards to help us when we were totally flabbergasted over this last-moment change of venue decision. The CONMEBOL had to work overtime with different levels of Government machinery but the whole episode did not turn out to be nightmarish due to the immense help extended by the Government.”
 

CONMEBOL internal structure

  • We have a Council that decides which Cities will be awarded the hosting rights;
  • We hire suppliers; and
  • The local Government deals with safety, security, permits for the City, guaranteeing the liaison between the CONMEBOL and the local Government.

 

Lessons Learned

  • Maintaining the highest standards of selection criteria as far as the bidding Cities are concerned and ascertaining that they are totally in tune with CONMEBOL requirements;
  • Be always prepared for last-minute change-of-venue kind of scenario; and
  • Maintaining the highest safety and security standards in the greater interest of the fans in a COVID-struck planet;

 

Sum-up

Despite Lima being a last-minute choice, Nogueira summed up by stating that it was a “Carnival-like atmosphere in 2019 and we had also included Halftime Show, and for Rio 2020, we had to work through the sweat of our brows to organize the match in a COVID-stung world.”

The 2020 Copa CONMEBOL Libertadores was played at the 78,838-capacity Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 21st, 2020, and it was indeed a very tough task for CONMEBOL to host the soccer showcase in Brazil as it is one of the countries which has taken the maximum brunt of the dreaded virus.

Nogueira has proved that determination, grit and gumption go a long way in helping to organize events even amid the most challenging circumstances and Lima 2019 bear testimony to that.

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