In May of 2016, Victor Montagliani was elected president of CONCACAF, soccer’s governing body across North and Central America and the Caribbean. He took over a federation recently rocked by corruption: his predecessors included Jeffrey Webb, a banker from the Cayman Islands, and Alfredo Hawit, a lawyer from Honduras, both of whom pled guilty to corruption-related charges laid by the United States Department of Justice.
Montagliani, a graduate from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, built a career as a risk manager with a variety of Vancouver insurance firms, while also working on soccer improvement in his home country. He has served as president of the Canadian Soccer Association, and chaired the organization of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. Montagliani also serves as one of the vice-presidents at FIFA, the world’s governing soccer body.
Ahead of the federation’s XXXII Ordinary Congress on April 8, Montagliani spoke exclusively to Remezcla about the challenges facing CONCACAF and what he hopes for in the future, specifically with regards to the federation’s joint 2026 World Cup bid.
You voted against former FIFA PresidentSepp Blatter. In that scandal, CONCACAF board members were also implicated. How is your administration fighting against corruption in the federation?
First and foremost, reforms were implemented at the FIFA level, and then also at the CONCACAF level. We spent a year without a president, because we were trying to implement reform. Now that we have put reform in place, we have to live by it.
Nothing is a 100% foolproof. We need to lead by example and have the right leadership, because soccer is for the fans, the players and the coaches. They deserve to have leaders in the game who will always do the right thing. Those people that are still doing the wrong things need to look in the mirror. I have only been a president for nine months, and you don’t get change in nine months when you had a certain culture embedded in soccer for a long time, but we are heading in the right direction.
Can you highlight some of those reforms ?
We reformed our statutes. We have integrity checks for anybody coming onto our committees and our council. We also have legal assistance for our internal check and balances. We hired a chief legal compliance officer and a chief financial officer. We have really changed how money comes into the confederation and, more importantly, how it goes out. These are all important things to clean up the confederation.
How have FIFA and the DoJ helped you tackle the problem?
FIFA and CONCACAF are on the same page in the sense of implementing reforms worldwide and in our confederation. The DoJ is doing its job with respect to what it has to do, and that is bringing people to justice. That was a catalyst for a lot of change, but in terms of the day to day, the DoJ doesn’t have influence on soccer. We are getting on with the soccer job, they are getting on with the job of justice.
In January, on a snowy day in Zurich, FIFA decided to expand the World Cup to 48 teams. What will the impact be on CONCACAF?
Our spots will increase. We had a meeting about that. It is positive for CONCACAF. UEFA made it clear that they wanted 16 slots. It is not any issue of greed. Confederations shouldn’t have gone to the table from a greed perspective.
CONCACAF is projected to get an additional three slots.
I am very happy with that outcome. Overall, it is pretty balanced.
The World Cup expansion was part of Gianni Infantino’s election manifesto. How has he fared as FIFA president, in your opinion?
Infantino has done a very good job. It is different when you are running for office from when you get in. The president had to do a lot of heavy lifting in changing the culture and the direction of the organization, which had, quite frankly, lost its moral compass. Those things are not easy, so I take my hat off for the job he has done in his first year.
North America is in the running for the 2026 World Cup. Why should FIFA pick it?
Well, you are asking the president of CONCACAF, so what do you think I am going to say? *laughs* The World Cup has been to every confederation since 1994, everyone has had the World Cup, other than Oceania. It is high time and long overdue that the World Cup comes back to CONCACAF.
We have been clear that three countries [Canada, Mexico, and the United States] have already put up their hand. There is discussion about hosting it together. Co-hosting is allowed under the regulations and in the near future we will have to come to a sort of a landing if that is going to be the way forward. It’s not an issue of capability, but more of an issue that it is time for the World Cup to come back to CONCACAF in 2026.
Presidencies come and go, but soccer is above all of that.
Do you believe that the presidency of Donald Trump could affect the bid?
When you bid for a World Cup or an Olympics or you put on one, politics is politics. Presidencies come and go, but soccer is above all of that. It is for us soccer leaders to work trough those issues so that we can bring the World Cup to whichever part of the world. With all due respect, soccer and its fans are far more important to me than any politician. We will find a way to work with any administration. Obviously, things are a bit uneasy in the US right now. You will always have that with governments, whether it is the current situation here or Brazil three years ago or South Africa seven years ago. There will always be governmental challenges.
Similarly, the Gold Cup is in the US this year. Do you foresee any problems that may arise from the administration’s rapidly tightening immigration policies?
Anyone traveling to a country should have the proper documentation, so you hope that people who do come in have that. You also hope that people are treated fairly. Most of the fans going to the Gold Cup are internal, already within the boundaries of the US and Canada. Of course, there will be some Mexican fans coming too. I recently took a flight from Mexico City to the US and the plane was full. People are still traveling back and forth. There are some uncomfortable feelings right now, but hopefully we get through that.
How do you balance the size and importance of Canada, Mexico, and the USA with the smaller Caribbean and Central American block of CONCACAF?
At the end of the day, this is why we started our One CONCACAF theme, because together we will be stronger. The smaller nations will benefit tremendously with the confederation coming together, but the bigger nations will also benefit. A high tide raises all the boats. That’s been one of our challenges. UEFA has a communal type of relationship and you see tremendous growth with the big nations, England, Italy, etc., but also with the middle nations, like Iceland and Wales, and even the smaller nations. That’s the model going forward for CONCACAF.
This is why we started our One CONCACAF theme, because together we will be stronger.
How important specifically is Mexico to the confederation?
From an international standpoint Mexico is one of our most successful countries in terms of winning Gold Cups, and doing well at World Cups as well. But even a smaller country like Costa Rica did us proud three years ago. Mexico is an important component. They stepped up to the plate in providing some resources. Our academy for excellence in coaching and refereeing is situated in Mexico, where 80% of the attendees are from the Caribbean and Central America. I commend the Mexican federation for stepping up and buying into the One CONCACAF theme and supporting the development of this region.
The CONCACAF Champions League has been dominated by Mexican clubs in recent years. Is there anything that can be done to combat the one-sidedness?
Soccer is soccer. If they are the best clubs, they are the best clubs. If I am the MLS and other countries, I’d start waking up to the fact and start doing more. Having said that, we restructured the format for next year so that we can provide better competition at the sharp edge of the knife. But, even in the new format, I still suspect the Mexican clubs to be there. They are the standard that everybody needs to rise to.