FIFA is set to discuss whether to prevent domestic league games being played in another country. A Stakeholders’ Committee, meeting in Zurich on Thursday, will debate whether to recommend making an amendment to the rules of football’s world governing body. The idea of a ’39th Game’ was first mentioned by Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore in 2008 but was eventually shelved due to widespread opposition within the game. However, the concept of matches being played abroad has been taken up more recently by Spain’s La Liga, who have twice in the last two seasons been denied the chance to host official matches in the USA. The committee itself can only advise the 37-member FIFA Council which would ultimately make any decision to block overseas matches.
The United States is viewed as the territory most likely to host a ‘road game’ and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, a member of the committee, has opted to fly to Switzerland straight from Wednesday’s 25th anniversary launch in New York to attend the debate. It is likely he will be joined by Vittorio Montagliani, the chairman of the FIFA committee, who is also president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). Last season, Barcelona pulled out of a proposed match with Girona in Miami due to a “lack of consensus” between stakeholders. La Liga’s intention was for Atletico Madrid to face Villarreal in the USA this season but those plans were abandoned after a court in Madrid ruled the Spanish FA could not be forced to give consent to the game, as required by FIFA. The match promoters, Relevent Sports, have already filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, who have also refused to sanction ‘official’ matches. La Liga argue the Spanish FA has hosted games abroad, including the four-team Super Cup, which was held in Saudi Arabia last month. Relevant said USSF had a conflict of interest in sanctioning matches and was threatening its business. Relevant, organisers of the International Champions Cup pre-season tournament, said it had permission from the Ecuador football federation and South American’s governing body COMNEBOL to host a game between Ecuadorian teams Barcelona SC and Guayaquil City in Miami on 5 May last year but was blocked from doing so by USSF, who refused to sanction the fixture. Garber, who is also a board member of US Soccer, believes teams should play in their home country. “Personally, as we continue to develop professional soccer, both in the United States and in other leagues, I believe home games should be played at home stadiums,” he said. “That has been my view from the beginning. “It shouldn’t be about one or two leagues trying to do something just because one or two clubs are pushing for it, when it is probably not even in the interests of that league.” MLS has said that it doesn’t have a say in whether to allow other leagues to play regular season matches in the United States. That is a decision for US Soccer and CONCACAF.