In due course

Sports

In due course

Montagliani optimistic fan experience will return before long

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) President Victor Montagliani is optimistic that football fans will before long get the chance to once again enjoy matches in the rarefied atmosphere of stadia — a position buoyed by the progress in broad response to the global pandemic.

The confederation a week ago announced new formats and schedules for three key competitions — Qatar World Cup 2022 qualification, the Gold Cup and the completion of the Nations League.

With a road map forward, following crippling effects on schedules due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Montagliani has renewed hopes for the region's competitions, and urged fans to brace themselves for a five-star menu of football action.

As the global health crisis ravaged world sport since March, life has slowly returned to football in particular since June, with action mainly in club competitions in Europe and largely without fans, in keeping with health protocols.

Concacaf, for its part, had to grapple with compromised schedules, and working with the realities of the time, has chiselled a path forward which appears to hold hope for countries hungry to get back on the ball.

“I am optimistic that we are going to have some solutions in six to 10 months, and that will be fantastic for the world, and not just for football…I am very optimistic we will have these solutions [that fans can once again enjoy matches],” Montagliani told the Jamaica Observer recently.

“I like what I have seen by following the medical progress of the world, the way they are dealing with this [pandemic], and not just from a vaccination standpoint,” the Canadian added.

Montagliani, who also serves Fifa as vice-president, admits that he misses the human interaction that gives football its soul.

“To be honest, I miss the smell of the grass. I miss being able to walk onto the pitch before the start of a game, and I really miss that, but I know it will come back. These are things you appreciate when you are in it, but when you miss it, you appreciate it more,” he noted.

Montagliani urged fans to be patient as the day will come when they can once again enjoy high-quality action, and are able to cheer on their countries from stadium pews in an electrified atmosphere.

“I know we are all hungry for it [to have high-quality action, and in the traditional way]…if you look at the menu that's coming up, I would say to fans that it is going to be worth the wait,” stated the Canadian businessman.

Montagliani says the fluency of the organisation was kept on track with constantly connecting and working with all member associations, key internal departments and other stakeholders in navigating the choppy seas brought on by COVID-19.

“We have been in constant contact with our member associations at all levels, whether it's our Communications Department, whether its our MA [Member Associations] Department, or myself…I think that consistent contact has helped us navigate these troubled waters.

“Today [last Monday] we had our first virtual presidents' meeting, and although we have been in constant touch [virtually], we realised how much we missed each other…and the measurement of the ultimate respect for someone is when you miss that someone,” Montagliani noted.

He said that while there would be an obvious financial hit related to the impact of the pandemic, which has so far infected some eight million people worldwide, the Concacaf boss says the organisation is on solid financial footing.

“We have been very prudent, very aggressive with the growth of our products and generating revenue. We have also been prudent in our governance and fiscal management, so we are in good shape leading into next year.

“Obviously, we have all suffered losses, but everything has been manageable so far,” he ended.

The new Qatar 2020 qualifying model has been shifted to give all 35 Fifa members of Concacaf direct access, with the fundamental move coming with a final competition of eight nations instead of the traditional six battling it out for three-and-half World Cup spots.

Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras have already booked their spots in the final due to their Fifa rankings.

The group of 30 play-offs are scheduled to begin in October and November of this year and the octagonal slated for June, 2021.

The Gold Cup, which has been upgraded to 16 teams for the first time, will be played July 10 to August 1 next year, with 12 nations already securing their places. Another 12 are to compete in a preliminary tournament in the USA, to decide the other four qualifiers.

Significantly also, the region-wide Nations League semi-finals to be contested by Mexico, USA, Costa Rica and Honduras in June this year have been pushed back to the Fifa window of March 2021.


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