From a scofflaw owner in Veracruz to horrendous images of crowd violence, the Mexican Soccer Federation is having a very bad month.
Last week’s primary storyline surrounding Mexican soccer was a player revolt in Veracruz because the owner was months behind in paying wages. The most disturbing aspect of the situation was the irresponsible Liga MX reaction in which league officials adopted a Vicente Fox attitude: “Why me? (¿Por qué yo?).
The weekend ended with horrific video footage of violence in the stands at the San Luis-Querétaro game. The match referee suspended the game with 5 minutes remaining and security officials opened gates to allow some fans onto the field to escape the violence.
It was not a good week for Mexican soccer.
The Veracruz debacle
The Tiburones hosted the Tigres in a Matchday 14 contest on Friday night. The game opened with the comical image of Veracruz players refusing to participate while the Tigres scored two goals during the opening 4 minutes.
The Veracruz team had intended to boycott the match to protest ownership’s failure to pay wages but a last-minute “agreement” forced the Tiburones to show up or risk immediate demotion. In the run-up to the match, the players union claimed there was league-wide solidarity and a few teams indicated they would not play their matches if Veracruz had been a no-show.
So, Liga MX avoided a real mess by making an emergency fund available to pay the back wages. But their actions earlier in the week earned plenty of criticism.
Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla initially shrugged off the problem, offering a range of responses to reporters. His statements included: “We are not aware of the situation” to “We can’t do anything if they don’t file a formal complaint” to “If they fail to show up for the game, the Liga MX will begin filing papers to demote Veracruz to second division.”
Bonilla tried to make the story go away by ignoring it, but then the players association began talking to the media. So, the Liga MX played the bully as it is wont to do, threatening punishment instead of addressing the issue.
After the Veracruz-Tigres match, the Tiburones submitted a prepared statement to the press making it clear that the situation dated back to the previous season. It was apparent that the Liga MX was fully aware of the issue, a shameful situation that involved the entire Veracruz organization – the academy teams and players, the women’s team, the stadium crews. Players and employees had been forced to leave their homes, some team employees were living at the stadium.
Published reports alleged that some players had two contracts (one for the league, one for the tax office), some had no contracts, the women’s team was essentially paying its own way, basic equipment and medical supplies were lacking.
Liga MX president Bonilla confirmed some of these reports by arguing that the league’s hands were tied because without legitimate contracts, the players had no recourse through official channels.
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Owner Fidel Kuri offered duplicitous answers and blamed the Liga MX for saddling him with extra debts, repeatedly saying that the players “had his word that he would pay” and asking why that wasn’t good enough. A real mess made worse by the fact that the Liga MX had required Kuri to pay 120 million pesos to remain in the league and avoid relegation. Where did that money go? Into the pockets of the other owners and Liga MX officials?
How could Liga MX allow this to go on for so long? How could a team be formally affiliated with the league if it did not file player contracts or have its accounts in order?
The makeshift emergency fund plan staved off a larger disaster for now, but this situation bears watching. One wonders if retaliation will be taken against the Veracruz players. The Liga MX has long punished players who don’t play according to Liga MX rules.
Pundits and TV personalities were quick to call for the resignation of the league president, but that seems unlikely. The Liga MX seems to be above shame in this regard.