The Imports: Why are Japan and Qatar in Copa America

The Imports: Why are Japan and Qatar in Copa America

The competition is called ‘Copa America’. So, why are two Asian countries involved in it?

It all goes back to the conception of the CONMEBOL tournament and football association back in 1916. Back then, only four teams participated in the newly created tournament – Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Soon, more South American teams began to join CONMEBOL and were thus invited to join the Copa America as well. Therefore, the current 10 members of CONMEBOL that you see today are the regulars in the world’s oldest international footballing competition.

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However, after many years of hosting this tournament, CONMEBOL realised that 10 is an odd number to work with for the competition. Thus, in 1993, two countries outside of CONMEBOL would be invited to participate in the Copa America, a tradition that has lasted until today. The only exception was in 2016 when the 100-year commemoration of the competition came along, and they invited six foreign teams rather than the usual two.

This year, it seems that Japan and Qatar were the fortunate ones to be invited. For them, the stars aligned, and every other continent was busy with their own tournaments. In Europe, they recently had the UEFA Nations League competition and the countries also have to start preparing for the Euro 2020 qualifiers. In Africa, they are currently having the Africa Cup of Nations while in North America, the Gold Cup is also ongoing. Thus, the decision was made last year to invite the two relatively undisturbed Asian teams (who also went on to be the 2019 Asian Cup finalists).

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Inviting foreigners would make sense as it makes the competition more exciting and profitable. By having teams from outside of CONMEBOL, it shakes things up for the fans because always watching the same group of countries playing each other over and over again can become quite stale after 100 years. It also allows the organizers to gain a greater influx of revenue as more teams mean more games, and more games mean more money is made.

Though this may seem like a win-win situation for the organizers and fans, some have argued that the competition’s prestige is slowly fading by inviting non-CONMEBOL members. They believe that the history and integrity of the Copa America has been sacrificed to make the tournament more appealing and commercialised. We might be witnessing the slow and painful fall from grace of one of South America’s most beloved and historical footballing competitions.

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