Fifa urged to ban overseas league games, starts discussions over post-2024 match calendar

Javier Tebas (Credit: Getty Images)

Fifa’s Stakeholders Committee has recommended that soccer’s world governing body should formally ban teams from playing official league matches outside of their home territories, raising another flashpoint on the long-controversial topic.

After a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, the committee said: “With regard to matches and competitions with an international dimension, the committee endorsed the principle set out by the Fifa Council that official domestic matches should take place on the territory of the member association concerned. Regulations on this matter will be submitted to the Fifa Council.”

The 23-person committee is chaired by Concacaf president Victor Montagliani and includes Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and United States Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro.

The matter is of particular interest in North America, particularly as all major properties on the continent increasingly look to stage games in other parts of the world, as well as to host more leagues from elsewhere.

Last September, promoter Relevent Sports filed an antitrust lawsuit against US Soccer in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the federation has conspired with Fifa and Soccer United Marketing – the commercial arm of MLS – to block official matches from foreign clubs being held on US soil.

Relevent is looking to stage official LaLiga matches in the US following a long-term partnership with the Spanish soccer league. A planned match between FC Barcelona and Girona at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium in January 2019 was cancelled after widespread opposition from various stakeholders.

In April 2019, US Soccer also denied Relevent’s application to host a match between two Ecuadorian clubs. In November, meanwhile, a Madrid court opted not to grant permission for a match between Villarreal and Atlético Madrid at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.

“This is a step back in promoting football worldwide,” La Liga president Javier Tebas told ESPN. “Fans from all over the world deserve to be able to enjoy the leagues they love wherever they are. Leagues should have the freedom to bring their matches closer to their fans, just as the big American leagues have done for many years, led by [MLS commissioner] Don Garber himself in the case of the NFL. We believe this is our right and we will continue to fight for it.”

Prior to joining MLS more than two decades ago, Garber had a long stint in the NFL, during part of which he served as as senior vice president and managing director of NFL International and oversaw the league’s non-US business.

Meanwhile, Fifa announced it had begun the complicated process to develop a new International Match Calendar from 2024 onwards.

The global governing body is responsible for drawing up the calendar, which co-ordinates fixtures around the world, allocating dates for international matches and tournaments to avoid clashes with domestic competitions.

Fifa said it has established a working group with representatives from clubs, national federations, leagues and global player union FIFPro to discuss the subject, which will also be chaired by Montagliani.

The process is likely to be fractious given competing demands from different stakeholders for more matches and growing concerns over fixture congestion – something Fifa has exacerbated with the creation of its new 24-team Club World Cup which starts in June 2021.

Uefa and the European Club Association have also discussed revamping European club competitions after 2024 and increasing the number of games in the Champions League.

National federations want to safeguard the number of revenue-generating games played by national teams while clubs are concerned about player burnout and inconsistencies in the scheduling of confederation championships.

The Professional Football Strategy Council (PFSC), a body that brings Uefa together with the ECA, professional leagues and players is calling for all confederation tournaments to take place at the same time, two years after the Fifa World Cup, allowing a rest period every other summer for the leading players.

Under such a plan, the African Cup of Nations, Asian Cup and Concacaf Gold Cup would take place on the same cycle as the Uefa European Championships and Copa America.

Similar to the PFSC, FIFPro wants to protect players from burnout and is lobbying for the creation of protected off-season and mid-season breaks.

To add to the complexities, Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of Relevent Sports, the sports promotion company behind the International Champions Cup (ICC), was recently reported to have met with the leading European football clubs and Uefa to discuss adding a more competitive element to his own summer soccer tournament.

There is no timeframe for the working group to report back to Fifa’s Stakeholders Committee.