Tim Vickery’s Notes From South America: Conmebol Handed Significant Blow Over Weekend

Conmebol, the South American Confederation, suffered a blow at the weekend. They had identified the key month in their quest to restart their continental club competitions, the Copa Libertadores and the Sudamericana.

“We believe that if the teams can start training in June,” said director Gonzalo Belloso recently, “then we can play in August. And if we’re able to play in August, then we’ll be able to finish the tournament in its current format.”

The Sudamericana is straight knock out all the way from start to finish, while the Libertadores features eight groups of four, narrowing down to a knock out stage of 16 teams. Just two rounds of group games have so far been played.

“We have faith that the competitions can get going again in August,” said Belloso. There is an element of necessity in this faith. Conmebol are hoping that they can hold on to everything; the same format of its club competitions, the marathon World Cup qualification campaign (which was to have kicked off a month ago) where all ten nations play each other home and away, plus the Copa America shared between Argentina and Colombia, put back a year to June/July 2021.

But if they are unable to start in August, then something will surely have to give.

And over the weekend the Argentine government gave them a huge problem. Anac, the country’s civil aviation agency, announced that there will be no commercial flights until September 1st. Any recognisable format of the Libertadores is obviously dependent on the ten nations of South America having open borders.

Without flights in and out of Argentina there can be no restart.

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It is just as well, then, that Belloso announced that Conmebol were looking at a number of scenarios and potential calendars. Some creativity will surely be called for – and plenty of delicate negotiation as well.

And it is also just as well that people like Belloso have an input into the decision making process. Now 46, the former striker had a long playing career that took him to Chile, France, Mexico and Paraguay as well as his native Argentina. He was never a star, but a solid journeyman who has picked up plenty of experience along the way.

The fact that former players are now involved can only be positive. One potential problem in the current situation is that football will come back too soon, that the economic pressures to restart and the need of society to be entertained will force the players into needless risks. Another is that with so many games to catch up, players will be forced into a inhumane procession of fixtures that could take a physical toll.

There is an obvious temptation on Conmebol, and other footballing authorities, to try to force three pints into a bottle that can only hold two. People like Gonzalo Belloso, ex-footballers now involved in administration, have a responsibility to ensure that the interests of those who put on the show are not overlooked.

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