Controversial Calls: What Happened at the Gold Cup?
With the United States losing to Jamaica in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup the final was projected to be Panama vs. Jamaica. The regional soccer tournament between the countries in Central America, North America, and the Caribbean is held every two years and draws millions of viewers. However, the success of the Gold Cup this year may have been corrupted by the allegations of inappropriate refereeing to ensure that the final game featured Mexico.
The finals were scheduled to be played in Philadelphia, which is home to many Mexicans. For revenue purposes, it would have been ideal to host a final including Mexico rather than a Panama-Jamaica final. With the U.S. losing in the semifinals, placing at least one soccer power house, most likely Mexico, in the final was imperative for TV viewership as well. It’s within this context that questionable referee calls took place in the quarterfinal against Costa Rica and the semifinal against Panama which ultimately granted Mexico a spot in the finals. The head referee of the calls in the semifinals, Mark Geiger, along with CONCACAF, are receiving serious backlash, as many critics, soccer players, and countries feel that there were third member parties involved which made it possible for Mexico to win. Although Geiger apologized for his calls, and CONCACAF admitted mistakes were made, an investigation is pending to truly determine what went wrong.
There were two clear instances in which observers are claiming that the calls made on behalf of Mexico were amiss. The Mexican-Costa Rican semifinal game ended with a winning penalty kick for Mexico, yet the nature of the foul that led to the kick was very much disputed. Many feel that Mexico was given a clear advantage in that game and that the actions embodied by the ref showcased an ulterior motive. Then, the Mexico vs. Panama game shocked athletes and fans around the world. Panama lost a man after a foul call, then a second controversial call allowed Mexico to tie up the game. Mexico then moved onto the final game against Jamaica and won the Gold Cup.
In the moments following the Panama game, spectators and members of the Panamanian Soccer Federation alike were quick to accuse Mexico of fixing the game. Allegations were also made about third party members being involved and paying off the referees. Panama’s federation demanded the removal of CONCACAF’s referee selection panel after describing the officiating in the loss as “insulting and embarrassing.” The statement also accused the match officials of favoring Mexico in a “vulgar and shameless way.” While there may not be any clear answers for some time, if there was any cheating involved, it does not appear to involve the Mexican players. “I didn’t celebrate because that penalty call left me with a bad taste,” said Mexican player Andres Guardado after he scored the controversial penalty kick which ultimately propelled them into the final.
This isn’t the first time CONCACAF has been accused of shady behavior. There was recently a massive investigation which resulted in several lawsuits against individuals working with FIFA and the organization as a whole. Amidst the disaster, two former CONCACAF presidents Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb were accused of bribery by the United States Justice Department. The United States Department of Justice alleged that for more than two decades, sports-marketing executives paid more than $150-million dollars in kickbacks and bribes to high-ranking soccer officials. The charges are an indication and direct representation of corrupt practices at the highest level of the world’s most popular sport; secret meetings, hidden cash, and bank accounts in Panama and the Cayman Islands were discovered as part of the investigation.
Most recently, CONCACAF acting President Alfredo Hawit announced a review of the refereeing in the Gold Cup. This review will hopefully shed light on the events of the two controversial games. While it may have been more profitable to have Mexico in the finals, it’s important that the integrity of the game remains intact.