FIFA chief voices concern over La Liga’s Miami plan

Ian Watson

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has voiced his objection to leagues playing competitive games abroad, an idea long considered by Premier League clubs and now planned by La Liga.

As part of a 15-year deal signed with entertainment and sports group Relevent in August, the Spanish top flight wants to play at least one regular-season game a year in North America.

La Liga and Relevent hope that the first of those will be Girona’s ‘home’ game against Barcelona in Miami on January 26 but the plan has provoked controversy ever since it first emerged.

First, the Spanish players’ association said they had not been consulted, then it emerged that La Liga has still not received the necessary approvals from the Spanish and US football federations, the Spanish sports ministry, UEFA and its North and Central American counterpart CONCACAF and FIFA.

Talks are ongoing with the players and La Liga has moved to address some of the concerns raised in Spain about compensating season ticket-holders and subsidising fans who want to travel to the game, but there has been no real progress on gaining approval from the the American, European and global authorities.

The latter could prove to be a significant hurdle, as Infantino has told ESPN he is not keen on the idea at all.

“I think I would prefer to see a great (Major League Soccer) game in the US rather than La Liga being in the US,” he said.

“In football, the general principle is that you play a ‘home’ match at ‘home’, and not in a foreign country.”

He then explained “there are procedures in place for these things” and said FIFA “will wait to receive anything official and then we’ll look into it”.

The Swiss-Italian football boss added that any such plan would have to be approved by both the Spanish and US football associations and the respective confederations, with FIFA expressing its view because of the “global implications”.

These implications have been aired before, not least in 2008 when the Premier League first admitted it was thinking about staging a 39th round of games overseas.

The idea was greeted with anger by British fans and annoyed football bosses in Asia and North America, where the games would have been played.

Departing Premier League boss Richard Scudamore, however, has made no secret of his desire to revive the idea over the last decade, although the plan would now be to stage one or more regular-season games abroad, as opposed to an extra round of games.

For him, and many club executives who have watched US sports leagues stage games in the UK for years, the business case for doing so is clear, providing domestic fans can be persuaded to give up a home game and those associations which host the games can be convinced that the publicity will benefit them, too.

That is the case La Liga is trying to make now and its outspoken president Javier Tebas has already hit back at Infantino via his Twitter account, pointing out that Canada has its own league but three Canadian teams play in MLS and Toronto are the current champions.