LONDON – CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb has demanded an extra World Cup place for teams from his confederation and hit out at FIFA’s decision to stop the rotation of confederations to host World Cups just when it is CONCACAF’s turn to host the 2026 World Cup. Webb, who is also a FIFA vice president, also claimed the row over the controversial artificial pitches due to be used at next year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada “is not a gender situation.”
In an outspoken presentation at the Leaders in Football conference at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, Webb used his position as head of FIFA’s anti-racism taskforce to air his concerns about Russia’s World Cup hosting credentials in 2018. He added that the lack of black coaches in English football – there are only two black coaches among the country’s 92 league clubs – was “not hidden [racism], it’s in front of your face.”
Webb was in a belligerent mood in west London, kicking off his keynote talk with a claim that CONCACAF should take an extra World Cup place.
“I can’t argue that UEFA deserves to have more spots than any other confederation, but if you look at the representation of teams at Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups, they are much more proportionate," Webb said. "We believe our confederation has earned a fourth spot.”
Currently, CONCACAF teams have 3.5 places for a World Cup, with the fourth-placed side in the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal playing the winner of the Oceania confederation in the most recent cycle. Before the 2014 World Cup, Mexico beat New Zealand 9-3 after the two-legged tie. It has been a good few years for CONCACAF teams, with Mexico winning the 2011 U-17 World Cup and 2012 Olympic gold, and three teams – USA, Mexico and Costa Rica – reaching the World Cup knockout stage.
“As for where it comes from, I think half a spot should be done away with,” Webb added.
Webb believes that a CONCACAF nation should be hosting the 2026 World Cup, 32 years after USA was the last World Cup host from the confederation.
“Unfortunately, when the rotation stopped, it affected CONCACAF more than anyone else. We believe it [the 2026 World Cup] should be our World Cup and there should not necessarily be a debate; only what country it should be in.”
He then turned his focus to the debate raging over the Women’s World Cup, which will be hosted in Canada next year. A group of nearly 50 players from 12 countries – including USA stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan – last week filed a lawsuit claiming sexual discrimination over the decision to use artificial turf at the tournament.
“My view on this is that I’m not convinced that it’s a gender situation,” Webb said. “It’s more from when you look at various places in the Caribbean, and Canada, and the weather… I believe a good artificial pitch is better than a poor natural one. I feel that artificial pitches are seen to be part of the future, and have been well-regarded. If you have the best there is in the world, that’s much better than having a bad grass field.”
Webb applauded UEFA’s recent decisions to take action against Russian club CSKA Moscow for continued racist incidents – it will be banned from hosting fans at its next three Champions League matches – and banning Italian Football Federation president Carlo Tavecchio from its next congress and ordering him to hold an anti-racism event in punishment for racist remarks.
“We have been talking for a long time about zero tolerance and saying no to racism and now we see actions coming forth and that's refreshing,” Webb continued. “It’s a huge fight on our hands, but it’s a huge step in recent week and congratulations to UEFA with their decisions.
“There is a huge challenge ahead [with Russia 2018] and it must start with education. It must come from the top down, that diversity and integration is good, then we have nothing to fear.”
Webb addressed the issue of English clubs adopting the NFL's Rooney Rule to encourage more opportunities for black coaches and called on American owners in the Premier League to lead the way. When asked if there was a hidden resistance to employing black coaches, he said: “I don't know how it could be hidden, you have 92 clubs and only two black coaches; it’s only hidden from a discussion standpoint, no one wants to deal with it from a real discussion or a commercial standpoint.”
Webb cited the example of Eddie Newton, who was an assistant coach to Roberto Di Matteo when Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012. Newton was unable to get an interview for coaching jobs.
“I’m not talking about the job, but an interview,” said Webb. “That's not hidden, it’s in front of your face.
“The Rooney Rule has been tremendous but in this day and age, should we really be having to mandate opportunities for qualified individuals? Sadly the answer is yes. But it has to come from the clubs, from the ownership. How many U.S. owners are there at Premier League clubs? Why have certain standards here [in England] and then in the USA, in the NFL where you live and conduct business, [operate] by different standards. I think you need to get one or two managers through who are very successful, then that might change the mentality and landscape that currently exists.”