KEIR RADNEDGE in MONTEVIDEO —- The crisis surrounding the Copa Libertadores final has deepened with details of the millions of dollars being offered to CONMEBOL and Argentinian clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors to play the game in Doha, Qatar.
Suddenly the decision of the South American confederation to move the game out of Argentina has been revealed as perhaps not so much a matter of security and safety but more about money.
The second leg of the climax to South America’s equivalent of the European Champions League was postponed last weekend after the Boca team bus was attacked by hooligans as it approached the River stadium. Players were shocked, injured by flying glass and rendered sick by tear gas fired by police.
CONMEBOL decided on Tuesday to replay the game on December 8 or 9 outside Argentina. That was a remarkable vote of no confidence in the security services of a country which is about to host world leaders on Friday and Saturday at the G20 conference.
Initially senior officials had discussed moving the game to Miami but that fell through when the sums possible in Qatar became clear.
Aside from the money, further issue of football politics and protocol are involved.
Only last month the council of world governing body FIFA refused permission for the Spanish league to stage a competitive match between Barcelona and Girona outside the country’s own borders – coincidentally in Miami.
On that basis it is hard to comprehend how FIFA could permit the South American confederation to stage a regular competition match outside its own regional borders.
If FIFA clears a Libertadores final in Asia then Spanish league president Javier Tebas will return to the attack on behalf of his own ‘match export’ project.
River are reluctant to concede ‘home’ advantage while Boca are impatient to learn the outcome of a CONMEBOL disciplinary commission hearing into events last weekend. Boca want to be awarded the tie on a walkover, holding River Plate supporters to blame for the violence. The club have supported the claim with a 46-page document and more than 20 hours of video evidence.
CONMEBOL will be strongly tempted to take the money. The failure to stage the second leg means it must reimburse River around $2.5m taken ahead of the unplayed match in ticket sales. River themselves are liable for the cost of police operations on both the Saturday and the Sunday.
Qatar commercial sources have offered $9m to the losing finalists, $30m to the winners and to provide all transport and accommodation costs.
The 2022 World Cup host has a close relationship with CONMEBOL to the extent that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmad Al Thani attended a congress in Buenos Aires in April along with FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
The event saw the signing of a contract by which Qatar Airways, already Boca’s shirt sponsor, signed a long-term contract to sponsor the Copa Libertadores from next year. Qatar’s national team has already been confirmed as guest participants in the 2019 Copa América in Brazil.
Plan B would be staging the game behind closed doors on Sunday, December, 9 in the Defensores del Chaco stadium in Asunción, Paraguay, which is home to the CONMEBOL headquarters.