KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Alejandro Dominguez, president of CONMEBOL, has been shocked to discover that not everyone believes South America to be the centre of the football universe.

The head of the South American confederation has fired off an angrily undiplomatic complaint to FIFA supremo Gianni Infantino over the world federation’s decision not to stage next month’s two-day council meeting in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital in which CONMEBOL has its headquarters.

FIFA announced last week that the two-day meeting would take the form of a video conference organised in Zurich. Those who wished to attend in person, mostly probably the European, Arab and North African members, could do so if they wished.

The world governing body ascribed the switch to ecological concerns and increasingly tight international travel restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus. It remains to be seen whether FIFA Congress will go ahead in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in June as scheduled.

Dominguez, in office as CONMEBOL president and a FIFA vice-president since 2016, threw his toys out of the pram after perceiving FIFA’s retreat from Asuncion as an insult to the entire South American game.

He told Infantino the venue switch had filled him with “amazement and disappointment [and] violates the principle of non-discrimination promoted by FIFA throughout its history. [This] unilateral decision represents a clear abuse of power.”

Dominguez added: “Paraguay, which you see as distant, economically inefficient and with health risks, has just successfully hosted a Beach Soccer World Cup, in addition to hosting a FIFA regional development office.

“Among other things, it has also produced some of the best players, coaches and referees in the world who have contributed to the greatness of this sport.”

Travel concerns

If green issues were a problem, asked Domínguez, why had council meetings in recent years been held around the rest of the world in cities such as Calcutta, Miami, Shanghai and Moscow?

He also displayed a remarkable ignorance about coronavirus travel concerns by stating that no cases had been recorded in South America in general or Paraguay in particular.

He continued: “I believe that mentioning the coronavirus as a factor for not holding the meeting in Paraguay lacks consistent and rigorous foundations proper to an organisation which controls the destiny of international football.”

Domiguez asked for a costs breakdown of the last five council meetings in Shanghai, Paris, Miami, Kigali and Moscow. This information should already be available to him since he chairs the FIFA finance committee. He is not reported to have resigned from this job in protest.

Samoura denial

Infantino did not answer Dominguez personally but delegated a response to secretary-general Fatma Samoura.

She denied any intention to disrespect Paraguay and added: “I am convinced that, despite the understandable initial disappointment, you will accept this decision, taken due to the current circumstances in which the comments and requests of several of your colleagues, were weighed.”

Samoura also pointed out that, in recent years, South America had staged more FIFA tournaments than any other region – the Rio Olympics in 2016, Futsal World Cup in Colombia in 2016, Women’s U-17 World Cup 17 in Uruguay in 2017, U-17 World Cup in Brazil and Beach Soccer World Cup in Paraguay last year.

Critics of FIFA have suggested that Infantino was happy to switch venues to mitigate the risk that council members from Europe and South America would band together to raise concerns over the expanded Club World Cup in China in 2021.

The New York Times has suggested that FIFA failed in an initial strategy to raise enough funds to cover the staging costs.