South America Names New Soccer Leader Following U.S. Arrests

January 28, 2016

  • Alejandro Dominguez replaces Juan Angel Napout at Conmebol
  • ‘No more corrupt practices,’ Dominguez says, calls for change

The governing body of South American soccer elected Paraguay’s Alejandro Dominguez as its new president at an emergency meeting Tuesday, filling a vacuum created after several Conmebol leaders were arrested in connection with a global investigation into corruption in the sport.

Dominguez, 44, the head of the Paraguayan national soccer federation, was the only candidate to replace compatriot Juan Angel Napout, who in December became the latest South American official to be charged by U.S. prosecutors in its sprawling racketeering, corruption and money laundering case. Napout pleaded not guilty and remains in the U.S. on bail. Dominguez received all 10 of the votes submitted.

In an eight minute speech after the results were announced, Dominguez promised there would be “no more corrupt practices.” He also pledged a transparent administration and a new way of doing business, calling the challenge ahead “the most important game of our lives.”

A member of FIFA, Conmebol also hosts soccer’s oldest regional national team event, the Copa America, a tournament that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and attracts sponsors including Coca-Cola and Santander bank. That contest is also central to the criminal investigations: Every one of Conmebol’s ten member nations has seen a current or former leader implicated in a scheme that alleges millions of dollars in bribes in return for exclusive media and sponsorship contracts.

Dominguez, a close ally of Napout, ran unopposed after acting president Wilmar Valdez withdrew a few days ago. The election was held in a conference center just outside the Paraguayan capital Asuncion that bears the name of former Conmebol president Nicolas Leoz. He’s among the now 39 officials and sports marketing executives charged by the U.S. He has denied any wrongdoing and remains in Paraguay.

Conmebol remains under pressure. Earlier this month, authorities raided its offices and seized documents and contracts, an action made possible only after Paraguay’s parliament lifted a years-long agreement that had given Conmebol a type of diplomatic immunity.

Executives met in a Conmebol-owned hotel Monday to discuss other senior appointments and talk to officials from top regional clubs who are threatening to walkout of the biggest regional competition. They also heard pitches from two of the officials hoping to replace Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter as president of global governing body FIFA.

A plaque to commemorate the opening of the luxury hotel, which has chandeliers in its entrance, also underscored the depth of the problems at Conmebol. All but one of the eleven officials listed on the metal frame have been accused of corruption.