Tebas condemns disruption caused by ‘intruder’ Fifa, calls out Saudi government

Javier Tebas, president of LaLiga (by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

LaLiga president Javier Tebas has fired his latest broadside against what he believes are the key issues affecting European football, picking out Fifa’s move into the club game, the rising influence of Saudi investment and the financial “doping” of certain top teams.

Speaking to a group of journalists at the UK launch of the LaLigaTV linear television channel, Tebas severely criticised moves made by football’s international federation to relaunch an expanded version of the Fifa Club World Cup.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino last month said world football’s governing body had received nine offers in response to a tender launched for the commercial rights to the revamped Club World Cup. In October, Fifa confirmed that China will become the first host of an expanded Club World Cup in 2021, stating that the revamped format would have a “major impact” financially.

In March, Fifa voted to approve plans to launch a 24-team Club World Cup in 2021, despite opposition from Europe’s leading clubs.

Tebas has now outlined his position, saying: “They (Fifa) want to have it every two years and I don’t know how far they wish to go.”

He continued: “Fifa (has) stopped being a regulator and organiser for national teams and started to organise other kinds of tournaments which compete directly with the national leagues. This is something that concerns me because we had a balance, an ecosystem between the different leagues in Europe and different continents.

“In Europe we have the Champions League and we now have an intruder that may disrupt that balance. There was already a threat of that in Europe, even though I believe that risk has dropped significantly with the Champions League, but I think this could have an impact on the value of international competitions.”

In June, Fifa awarded Qatar the rights to host the Club World Cup in 2019 and 2020. The gulf state will host the final two editions of the tournament in its current seven-team format before the event is expanded to 24 teams as part of a major commercial revamp, which aims to create the most lucrative club event.

Tebas has questioned why European clubs would side with such change, when the major leagues and Champions League are already strong earners. He said: “I always ask why we should change a system of strong international competitions. If it’s not broken, why try to fix it?

“We’ve seen how the (English) Premier League has grown significantly over the last few years. La Liga has also grown significantly and why would we want to change that? Why would we want to put that at risk with these ideas? It’s like building castles in the sky.”

Saudi government “whitewashing their image”

Tebas has long been at loggerheads with Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) counterpart Luis Rubiales, a relationship that was again tested with the RFEF’s agreement of a three-year deal to stage its Supercopa club tournament in Saudi Arabia.

Tebas has previously criticised the RFEF’s decision, citing the country’s alleged support for pirate broadcaster beoutQ. He returned to this topic when speaking in London, questioning the judgement of sports bodies who choose to align themselves with a nation whose human rights stance has been continually questioned.

Tebas, pointing to the case of Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in 2018, said: “The Saudi Arabian government has a policy whereby they improve the image of the government through sport, whitewashing their image. We should not forget what happened in the Turkish embassy.

“We should not forget these things. This happened in an embassy, not a pub and this is very serious, at least in my opinion. Money is not the only thing that matters.”

Tebas has also been a long-standing critic of the influence of governments whose wealth has been used to transform the fortunes of certain top teams, most notably Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners and Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari backers.

Tebas remarked: “One of the major issues in European football is related to (financial) doping. When we have clubs being financed by states that has an impact on salaries, meaning that in other countries with more strict economic controls, like Spain and Germany, clubs cannot actually ask the state for extra financing to pay those salaries.

“This causes inflation and people think about creating other competitions because (Real Madrid president) Florentino Perez and other clubs are always saying we need more money to maintain our players.

“I don’t believe we are helping football if we generate wealth and it goes straight back to the big clubs. But that’s what’s happening, the major clubs share out the large part of the income among their players.”