Ecuador has so far qualified for three FIFA World Cups, the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, 2006 in Germany, and 2014 in Brazil. At the club level, teams like Liga de Quito (LDU) have experienced national and international success.
For instance, LDU was the runner-up at the 2008 FIFA World Cup against Manchester United.
Due to this international success, the budget for Ecuadorian football has also increased. In terms of nominal growth, the football industry had an average annual rate of 12 percent which is 1.5 times more than the national economy. When the national team qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Ecuador received $8 million. The majority of this money was distributed among players rather than invested in improving the conditions of the sport in the country. Despite the economic growth, Ecuadorian football is suffering a severe economic crisis.
In 2014, the majority of the 12 clubs in the top division of Ecuadorian football were behind on wages payments. By the end of 2014, the Ecuadorian Football Tournament had an accumulated deficit of over $47 million. If the nominal growth of football has been growing, how is it possible that clubs do not have funds to pay for players’ and employees’ wages?
As a result of this, the players’ association went on strike for the first time in Ecuadorian history in the summer of 2014. The players missed official games to catch the Ecuadorian Football Federations (FEF) attention.
Moving forward to 2015, the crisis hasn't changed, and a new crisis has emerged. Early in 2015, the FEF held elections for a new president. Only two candidates ran for the position, including incumbent Luis Chiriboga who had been president of FEF since 1998. The elections were suspended for about three weeks after some issues during the congress. During the suspension, the second candidate forfeited his candidacy, leaving Chiriboga to be elected president for the fifth time.
The status of Ecuadorian Football continues to worsen. Teams are still behind on wages, talks about having another strike from the players are being held, and teams are losing points on the table because of their economic debts.
Football club Deportivo Quito was forced to be relegated for the 2016 season due to the economic crisis. Players refused to play, so reserve players had to face the opponents, as the main squad went on strike with the hopes that their wages would be paid. Deportivo Quito had expenses of $43 million in 2008 while its income was just over $27 million, so it’s no surprise the club is going through this crisis. Many clubs have been behind on their wages for over two months.
To top it all, the president of the FEF was involved in the FIFA Gate criminal case. Luis Chiriboga has been accused of racketeering, money laundering and fraud by the United States Department of Justice. Chiriboga has been suspended from his position as president of the FEF for 90 days and is under provisional domestic arrest by the Ecuadorian Justice.
Along with Chiriboga, two more FEF officials were arrested, Vinicio Luna and Francisco Acosta. The former, who had previously served time in prison for human trafficking, was allowed to join the FEF right after he got out.
Despite these issues, Ecuador’s national team shows promise, having performed well so far in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Still, unless the governance structure of the sport changes, there is little hope for the future of football in Ecuador.
A lack of strong management is at the core of the problems that Ecuadorian football faces.
The presidents and those involved in directing professional football clubs in Ecuador are traditionally football enthusiasts with little or no experience in the business of football. They lack the necessary experience and education to manage a football club.
There have been discussions on developing a professional football league, similar to the Premier League in the United Kingdom, in order to be less dependent from the FEF. Regardless whether this league is created or not, there is no doubt that immediate change in management is needed.
Hopefully, the recent accusations of the U.S. Court of Justice will serve as an inspiration for those currently involved in the sport to demand more transparency and better governance at every level of the game.