While Guatemala has never been a traditional football powerhouse, the eyes of the world were drawn to the small Central American nation following a ban for the national soccer federation in 2017.
Corruption stalks Guatemalan football
The world governing body, FIFA, handed down the ban following years of investigations involving the FBI and international law enforcement teams. US agents looking into high-level corruption arrested Brayan Jimenez Hernandez, the former president of the Guatemalan national soccer federation, in December 2015, setting off a chain of events that brought tears to the eyes of football fans around the country.
Jimenez Hernandez was implicated in a corruption scandal linking the soccer federation, known as Fedefut because of its initials in Spanish, to the alleged illegal sale of television rights. Investigators started to dig deeper into the problems at Fedefut, and found enough evidence of wrongdoing to recommend the suspension of the federation.
An international ban remains in place
During a probation period, officials were given the opportunity to bring Fedefut rules in line with FIFA regulations, or suffer a ban. Deadlines came and went, but internal power struggles meant that no meaningful action was taken. Much to the chagrin of fans, the ongoing ban means that Guatemalan clubs and the national team are still banned from competing in international competitions.
Corruption is a huge problem in Guatemala, which is wrestling to reform its political and economic system. Football has become collateral damage in a far wider story that stretches across the length and breadth of Guatemalan society.
A lack of political will holds up progress
The national team has never qualified for a major international tournament, and for the foreseeable future there will be no chance for the players to do so. Fans and players alike complain about the ban, but for the moment, the power to change rests in the hands of the politicians. And as with many other things in Guatemala, it looks likely that progress will be slow as different factions work to protect vested interests.