Thursday March 12th, 2015

PHILADELPHIA — CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb is one of the rising stars of global soccer politics, a guy who may someday be in the conversation to become FIFA president.

Not only has the 50-year-old Cayman Islands banker become a power player in Zurich—where he’s on the FIFA executive committee and leads the organization’s task force against racism and discrimination—but he has also made progress reviving CONCACAF after years of neglect and corruption under Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer had turned the organization into a classic banana republic.

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“We started on a journey two-and-a-half years ago of really reforming our confederation and becoming the catalyst for real transition,” Webb told SI.com ahead of Thursday’s announcement of the 2015 Gold Cup final taking place here at Lincoln Financial field.

“I believe when you look at the investment we’ve made in governance, we’ve made so much progress, but we have so much more work to do.”

Some of that progress is in areas like youth development, coaches education and improved transparency. Webb said there have been four audits of CONCACAF in the past two years.

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The organization isn’t entirely out of the woods yet when it comes to the misdeeds of the previous administration. As Bloomberg Business reported last month, CONCACAF continues to face a potential demand for millions of dollars in back taxes from the IRS to regain the tax-exempt status that it lost in 2011. With Blazer as its general secretary, CONCACAF didn’t file any returns for at least six years.

“That’s been an ongoing process,” said Webb of the IRS negotiations. “We’ve had Sidley Austin [CONCACAF’s tax advisory firm] experts working with the IRS on that … in terms of regaining tax status.”

Webb, who grew up in both the Caymans and the Tampa, Fla., area, is running unopposed for another term as confederation president on April 16. Meanwhile, his work leading FIFA’s anti-racism task force is more important than ever, with incidents continuing recently from Italy to England to Peru.

How can Webb enact real change when it comes to racism in the world of soccer?

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“To achieve it on a sustainable level long-term has to be through education,” he said. “We’ve enacted new legislation that we did in Mauritius two years ago in regards to anti-racism. We’ve put into the books point deductions and even relegation. But now it comes down to confederations and national associations … We haven’t received the level of zero tolerance that we’d hoped for. We have to rely on the 209 associations and the confederations to stamp it out.”

Another project for Webb is lobbying FIFA to make sure a CONCACAF country hosts World Cup 2026. And while Mexico and Canada say they’re interested in bidding for that tournament, Webb says there’s one obvious country to host the world’s biggest sporting event: the United States.

“The U.S. has the best infrastructure, not only the best in CONCACAF, but the best for any sport in the world,” Webb said. “I believe the U.S. could host a World Cup in a year’s time just based on organization without having to build any stadiums.”

Other tournaments will come to the U.S. sooner, of course, including this summer’s Gold Cup and next year’s Copa América Centenario. If those events are as successful as expected, then it might set the U.S. up for a big win when the World Cup hosting rights are voted on in 2017.

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