The future looks gloomy for a Colombian soccer league crippled by corruption as many teams find themselves in the red, according to an economic review for 2010-11.
The reports from an economic reviewing body compiled statistics on the Colombian A and B leagues, which revealed troubling figures on both ends of the scale. The combined assets of all the teams included barely reached $70 million — the amount just one NFL team earns from television rights in the United States.
The team revealed to be most in debt for 2010-11 was recently relegated America de Cali, who recorded a negative equity of $7 million. Atletico Nacional showed losses of $4 million for 2011 and Cucuta Deportivo about $3.5 million.
Buoyed by a large fanbase and relative success Nacional should have the resilience to overcome the downturn. Cucuta have accepted a plan to restructure their finances with a regulatory body to avoid going into liquidation.
Other teams also risk having to undergo a restructuring process to prevent them from dropping out of the national leagues.
Last year Colombia’s national soccer association was forced to declare a state of economic crisis and accept government intervention. The sport has suffered following government crackdowns on the influence of drug cartels, which financed many teams for over a decade. Millions of dollars in assets have been seized by authorities.
Drug cartels have long used the sport as an avenue for money laundering, with various major teams being investigated in recent years. Some schemes reportedly involved more than a billion dollars. Many of the largest teams in the national leagues have been controlled by cartels, Pablo Escobar once the owner of Medellin‘s Atletico Nacional. “Football has a lot of windows through which illegal money can enter, and in fact it has,” said President Juan Manuel Santos in 2010.
The government has repeatedly blamed drug cartels for bankrupting Colombian soccer, the influence of the gangs deterring both national and international investors, according to global magazine The Economist. Companies such as the beer giant Aguila have removed their sponsorship. Game attendance has also fallen due to fears of violence.
Santos, a life-long Santa Fe fan, has denounced the dire state of the national leagues and affirmed his committment to change Colombian soccer. “Either we change football (soccer) or it will be over for us. I am not going to permit the demise of Colombian football,” he declared in 2010.
To try to improve transparency and curb illegal intervention in soccer clubs Santos approved a bill last year that required clubs to report all their dealings to the finance ministry.