Jeffrey Webb hopes his presidency will transform CONCACAF
SALT LAKE CITY -- CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands says it's an "injustice" that CONCACAF will have to go at least 32 years between hosting World Cups, and he thinks the country that is best suited to host World Cup 2026 is the United States.
That may not come as welcome news to Mexico or Canada, CONCACAF countries that might also be interested in hosting or co-hosting global soccer's showpiece event, but it's just reality, Webb told SI.com in an interview at the Gold Cup in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday.
"We have to do every single thing within our power to make sure [the World Cup] comes back to CONCACAF," says Webb. "Which country is the best-suited to host it from an infrastructure standpoint and from an economic standpoint to FIFA's benefit? At the end of the day, it's business, and it's the United States. We need the U.S. [soccer] market to continue to grow."
The 1994 World Cup in the U.S. remains the highest-attended World Cup of all time.
Webb, 48, was elected president of CONCACAF last year and is one of the three CONCACAF members of the powerful FIFA Executive Committee (along with the U.S.'s Sunil Gulati and Guatemala's Rafael Salguero). Webb has already taken a big role on several fronts as he tries to 1) rehabilitate the image of corruption that developed under previous CONCACAF leaders Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer, and 2) promote real change as the chair of FIFA's Anti-Racism and Discrimination Task Force.
Neither task will be easy for Webb, who grew up in both the Caymans and in the Tampa, Fla., area. What is he hoping to achieve on the anti-racism committee? "For many years, unfortunately, we've been paying lip-service to [racism in soccer]," he says. "I think we finally put some teeth in [sanctions] at the FIFA Congress with the measures we've taken. In our confederation, we have nowhere near some of the things we're seeing in Europe."
"What we're trying to achieve is No. 1, sanctions, and now No. 2 is going to be looking at how do we prevent things from happening," he goes on. "And then education. We have to start from within the clubs, with the players and the coaches. Once you start there, then you can affect the stadiums. Then you can go out into the communities."
Growing up in Tampa, Webb remembers players from the NFL's Buccaneers like Lee Roy Selmon and Doug Williams coming to visit his high school as part of community outreach programs. "That doesn't exist in other countries [in soccer]," he says. "You go to a Buccaneers or Dolphins game, and you see the player have various foundations and outreach programs. How do we get those clubs [in other countries] to have that integration into the community? So they can say, 'Look, there's no difference, we're all human beings. We all belong to one human race, and it doesn't matter what color or religion or ethnicity we are."
Meanwhile, Webb is the point man for the rebranding of CONCACAF's terrible image, one that resulted from Warner becoming something close to a soccer warlord and Blazer being investigated by the FBI and IRS for alleged white-collar misdeeds. A recent scathing integrity report by CONCACAF alleged that the previous CONCACAF leaders misused tens of millions of dollars.
Webb nods his head when asked if he's trying to overhaul CONCACAF's shady image. "We have to," he says. "Since I got elected last year, we're focused so much on oversight and governance." He cites hiring a Big Five firm as the confederation's auditor and the appointment of a Price Waterhouse partner as chair of the audit and compliance committee.
"Our statutes and regulations are now starting to be modified and probably go a lot further than the FIFA reforms will go," Webb says. "But I think that in rebuilding the vision and the image of the confederation, actions speak louder than words. We've gotta do it. We have to rebuild that trust and integrity and reestablish that credibility that we've lost."
At the same time, Webb is jetting around the U.S. to visit nearly every Gold Cup venue. He knows that the region is criticized in some quarters for holding the tournament every two years instead of every four, but he argues there's a real need from financial, competitive and development perspectives to have the biennial staging.
"It's important for us from a development standpoint, but more importantly, it's important for the development of the national teams," he says. "If you look at World Cup qualifying and how competitive it's been, we think that by playing the Gold Cup every two years instead of every four has helped those countries—the Hondurases and Panamas and Costa Ricas."
"Our confederation has such a big difference between the U.S. and Mexico versus a small country like Montserrat or Turks and Caicos or some others. How do you find that balance between it might be too much for two or three countries, but for the other 38 or 39 they need the competition? They need to be challenged. They need to grow."
From a dollars perspective, Webb says the Gold Cup brings in real money for the confederation: Including TV rights fees, the 2011 edition had nearly $20 million in revenues, which helps fund nearly all other CONCACAF projects and tournaments. "This year for the first time we allocated $8 million to development throughout the confederation," he says.
It sounds promising -- and could be a major departure from the days when millions of CONCACAF dollars disappeared into thin air or the pockets of a few unscrupulous individuals. But Webb is right. Talk is cheap, and now the new leaders of CONCACAF have to walk the walk to show they're serious about cleaning up the region's image.