Crisis in Honduras

The United States National Team, only one victory away from booking their place in the 2010 World Cup, is set to take on fellow qualifying contender Honduras in San Pedro Sula next month. For American soccer fans, it appears to be just another tough match on the road in Central America for a US team that typically struggles in those environs.

Recent events in Honduras, however, events that have nothing to do with soccer, could drastically affect the circumstances of the match.

In June, the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manual Zelaya, was forcibly removed from the country by military personnel after a crisis resulting from his call for a referendum of the Honduran people on the question of adding a ballot box to polling places during the November general election. The ballot box would specifically be placed to put forth the question of amending the nation's constitution via a National Assembly. As the November elections would determine Zelaya's successor, allegations that the president hoped to change the country's governing documents to allow him to remain in power ran rampant. Zelaya denied the accusations, but went ahead with a plan to hold the poll on the potential referendum on June 28th.

In May, the military, who is tasked by the government to aid in the logistics of elections, refused to carry out Zelaya's orders. Military leaders, the nation's congress, the Supreme Court and the county's top electoral tribunal, aligned against Zelaya and his plan, declaring it illegal and recommending that voters stay home due to the potential for violence from the president's supporters. The crisis had reached a fever pitch, and several international agencies and observing regional governments were fearful of a potential coup d'├ętat.

Zelaya's removal, to the neutral nation of Costa Rica, lasted until yesterday. The ousted president sneaked back into the country's capital of Tegucigalpa, and is now holed up in the Brazilian embassy. The country's already tense political situation is now significantly destabilized, and all this with a crucial World Cup qualifier rapidly approaching on October 10th.

Zelaya's supporters are gathered outside the Brazilian embassy, police are watching the the crowds closely, and the entire country sits on edge. The US State Department has issued a travel advisory in regards to Honduras, encouraging Americans to avoid the country for "non-essential" travel.


Is a World Cup qualifier "essential" travel?

The question, of course, applies more to fans of the US National Team than it does to the squad itself; whether the State Department would object to US Soccer sending Bradley and his boys to Honduras is unknown, especially with the recentness of Zalya's sudden return. No statements of any kind have been made, and at this moment it would appear that the game is set to go ahead as scheduled.

But with October 10th less than three weeks away, the potential for the Honduran political volcano to erupt prior to the match is worrying. If things worsen, and the State Department advisory becomes a prohibition, it may become necessary for the game to be moved; while that would clearly benefit the US, and surely make some of their fans happy, it's not exactly in the spirit of fair competition. The US hosted Honduras (albeit in front of a partisan crowd for the Hondurans) in Chicago, so the Hondurans should rightly have the opportunity to host the Americans in San Pedro Sula.

Any hope that the separation between the capital and site of the national team's home matches might be a saving grace for the game seem dim. While Tegucigalpa is the county's political epicenter, San Pedro Sula is the nation's economic heavyweight; many of Honduras' leading industrialists and prominent Zelaya opponents are based in the latter, with the city's significant poor population likely to back the deposed president. That makes for a powder keg of political tension, guaranteeing that whatever events Zelaya's return presages will explode in San Pedro Sula just as they might in Tegucigalpa.

Politics and sport make uneasy companions, and FIFA has never hesitated to act when faced with volatile national situation could adversely affect the competition on the field. There is precedent for moving a World Cup qualifier due to unrest; football's governing body relocated a match between Ireland and Georgia last year to Mainz, Germany after the former Soviet republic had a brief military run in with Russia the month prior to game.


I don't know if the Honduras-US game will be moved, or if the possibility is being discussed. I don't know if US Soccer would request FIFA intervention at any point, or if State Department mandates might affect the ability of the National Team to play their next qualifier. I don't know if the situation in Honduras will hold through October 10th, or if the country is headed for massive civil unrest. I also have no sense of where the game might take place if San Pedro Sula is not a realistic possibility; the only suggestion I've seen that makes sense at this point is Trinidad & Tobago, as the Soca Warriors will be playing against Costa Rica in San Jose on that match day. The only thing I do know is that the Honduran people have much more to worry about than football at the moment, and that World Cup qualifiers mean little in the grand scheme.

But for American soccer fans, it's worth wondering if the tenor of their team's next qualifier could be changed by events in Central America.

There are more questions than answers here, and so much of it hinges on the actions of Zelaya, his supporters, and the current power holders in Honduras. But the questions are certainly worth asking, and MFUSA will continue to monitor both Honduran developments as well as any possible response by the Honduran football federation, US Soccer, or FIFA.

Special thanks to Dan of the Free Beer Movement for the impetus for this post and the insight he provided into the Honduran situation.
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