After the formal proceedings finished at CONCACAF's Gold Cup press conference Thursday, confederation president Jeffrey Webb sat down for a series of one-on-one interviews with reporters in attendance. I was fortunate to be one of the people invited to meet with Webb. Even though we only had a few minutes together, there were no strings attached to the invitation or conditions on questions I could ask.
If you know about CONCACAF's history, you know that it hasn't always been so transparent. The corruption scandal that sank Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner is still fresh in the memories of many people in the American soccer community and beyond. Webb took the reins of CONCACAF knowing he had to clean up their mess, and he has put a serious effort into doing so.
There is still plenty of work to be done, as Webb is the first to admit. But as you'll see from the interview transcript below, he is facing up to the challenges and the tough questions head on. The Cayman Islands native is sincere and forthright, and while he certainly has a commanding presence in a room, he doesn't use it to intimidate or be overbearing.
Here's a transcript of our conversation.
One of the big questions that people are asking in Philadelphia is how the city became the first U.S. market outside of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to host a CONCACAF Gold Cup final. What did it take to knock them off?
This is a big city, man. This is a big city, with a big heart. A big sports town. A huge history. Why not Philadelphia?
Philadelphia hasn't always been the big-time soccer market that it is now. As you've watched places like this in America embrace the game over the years - not just the suburban kids who play the game, but really the culture of the sport - what has that meant to you?
It's tremendous. We receive, obviously, various analyses about the area, the suburbs. You look at the accessibility to Philadelphia from New York, Washington, Baltimore and so forth. I think it's a great location.
So I think for us, you look at the work the Philadelphia Union is doing in the community, the growth of the game that is taking place - the mayor told me about various programs he is doing in the inner city for soccer. It's a tremendous opportunity for CONCACAF and the Philadelphia Eagles and the Philadelphia Union and the city.
In your tenure as CONCACAF president, you've made a lot of effort to make the organization more transparent and clear out the reputation of corruption and scandal that had been there previously. How important has that been for you personally?
Look, we've had a very challenging chapter in the history of CONCACAF. But again, that's one chapter.
I believe that the tremendous work that our integrity committee did in bringing a level of transparency to our confederation - on April 16th we will have implemented every single one of their recommendations for transparency in governance.
Now we have an organization that's managed by a few individuals, but by 41 national associations. All 41 presidents in our confederation now sit on various committees. They all make various decisions throughout the confederation. So the governance process has been tremendous.
Sunil Gulati, the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, has used his time on FIFA's executive committee to try to make that organization more transparent and accountable. It's obviously very difficult, as everybody knows.
But as you've watched him, and as you've stepped up your own efforts within FIFA - especially when it comes to the anti-racism campaign - how important has trying to improve FIFA become for the confederation?
Oh, it's very important. Look, I think me and Sunil, we realize we come from a confederation that has been through incredible change. We know the importance of trust and confidence.
Our insistence on releasing the Garcia report [on corruption allegations in bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups] is no coincidence. We believe that it was something that should be done. We believe that if you go through that process, you should do what CONCACAF did and release it to the entire world, and make the world judge for itself - and then put things in place and make sure it doesn't happen again. So it's very important.
He [Gulati] has done a tremendous job in U.S. soccer, in building the sport. You have an incredible, sustainable MLS that is striving and doing well. I saw the game in Orlando, against New York, a few days ago. A tremendous atmosphere. You're developing a real football culture here.
You mentioned the Garcia report a moment ago. I had brought up the casual soccer fan in America who is new to the sport and is starting to learn the ways that the international game works - and that FIFA doesn't quite work the way American sports leagues do.
What message would you give to those fans about what their expectations should be, and the effort and time it takes to make true reforms in how international soccer is run?
It's unfortunate that so much attention has turned to the wrong part of the game. And really, I think, we've got to focus on the field and beautiful game.
Look, at FIFA and CONCACAF and UEFA and all the confederations, we've all got to step up. We've all got to do a better job. I believe the decision the [FIFA] executive committee made in December in Morocco is a huge decision, to say that once all the investigations are completed, the [Garcia] report will be issued in a redacted form.
We've had so much legal advice from everybody, from Swiss law to this [country's] law, and we're just like, "Wow." But it's good that at the end of the day, the report will be released.
The United States and Canada are both going to bid for the 2026 World Cup, it looks like, and CONCACAF is going to have to pick one of those nations to back at the FIFA level. You're probably going to have to be the person who makes the ultimate decision between the two nations. What will be the factors that go into that decision?
You know, 2026 is going to be 32 years since we've had a World Cup in CONCACAF. And as a confederation, that's unacceptable. We can't accept that. Mexico is also going to be bidding - Mexican federation president [Justino] Compean has said that he's going to be bidding as well. So you have Mexico, the United States and Canada all in for it.
I believe that - look, from a sporting infrastructure standpoint, there's absolutely no country in the world, of the 209 countries in the world, that has the sporting infrastructure that the United States has. The United States is probably the only, single country in the world that probably could do a World Cup within a year or two years.
And they've done it already, with the Women's World Cup [in 2003] when we had the situation [of a SARS outbreak] in China. I believe they have that infrastructure. We all know they have that infrastructure and those capabilities.
But you know what, for us, our focus is going to be, number one, to make sure that it comes to CONCACAF. And then, you know, I'm going to sit back and watch Victor [Montagliani, president of the Canadian Soccer Association], Sunil and Justino do their thing.