Is South America better off without Mexican clubs?
“The game is over for us,” said Justino Compean, president of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF).
Mexican authorities threw their toys out of the pram after Brazilian champions Sao Paulo and Uruguay’s Nacional declined to travel to the country to face Guadalajara and San Luis respectively in the Libertadores Cup second round.
Yet, the weekend’s league matches in both Guadalajara and San Luis were played behind closed doors under the orders of the FMF itself because both are considered to be in regions where there is thought to be a higher risk of the virus.
Given the circumstances, it seemed premature, to say the least, to claim that either city would make an appropriate venue for an international sporting fixture.
Some commentators, notably David Faitelson writing for the Mexican edition of ESPN’s Web site, have questioned whether any football at all should be played in Mexico in the present circumstances.
“Has anyone asked the players what they think?” he asked.
Most media have reported matches as if almost nothing unusual was going on – either this weekend, when clubs in some regions were allowed to admit fans under strict conditions, or the previous one, when all games were played behind closed doors.
There is also the matter of Mexico’s uncomfortable relationship with the South American confederation.
Mexican clubs have been taking part in the Libertadores, the regions’s equivalent of the Champions League, for more than a decade under a special agreement.
They also play in the Copa Sudamericana, a sort of UEFA Cup-type contest, and the national team has been a guest at the Copa America since 1993. But it has never been the happiest of relationships.
Mexican officials and media often complain that their teams have received second class treatment at the hands of referees and disciplinary commissions, yet there is also the feeling that the Mexicans only take the Libertadores seriously when it suits them.
The Mexicans have repeatedly failed to send their top clubs to the Libertadores, instead organising an “Interliga” tournament, involving eight teams and played in the United States, to decide who qualifies.
This frequently results in midtable teams representing the country, making a mockery of the Libertadores.
Two years ago, Mexican club America fielded a reserve team in their quarter-final tie against Brazil’s Santos because of a clash with local matches, which the FMF refused to re-scheduled.
A greater insult to their hosts would have been harder to imagine. Perhaps Mexico’s withdrawal will be cheered by much of the continent.
PHOTO: A security guard wears a surgical mask as he sits in the empty Azul stadium during a Mexican League Championship soccer match between Indios and Cruz Azul in Mexico City May 2, 2009.REUTERS/Henry Romero