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FIFA moves toward allowing La Liga, EPL games in U.S., other countries

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA moved Wednesday toward ending decades of soccer tradition by ordering a review of its policy that currently blocks domestic league games being played in other countries.

Fans are likely to object to their teams’ home matches potentially being moved thousands of miles (kilometers) away, though it has become routine for United States pro sports leagues to stage games in Europe, Asia and South America that help build their brands and fan bases.

One soccer great, who has worked for FIFA presenting televised events, objected to the plan within hours.

"No. No. No," Gary Lineker, the former England and Barcelona striker who won the Golden Boot as top scorer at the 1986 World Cup, wrote on social media.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are expected to be willing hosts to lure competitive games from top European countries, and FIFA recently agreed to withdraw from an ongoing court case in New York filed by promoter Relevent to challenge the veto on organizing competitive league games.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino did not take questions or hold a news conference in Bangkok where the soccer body’s council met Wednesday and agreed to create a working group to review so-called "out-of-territory" games.

So far, soccer authorities in Italy, Spain and France have been able to go abroad to countries including Saudi Arabia, China and Israel but only for their domestic Super Cup — largely ceremonial games between the previous season’s national league and cup title holders.

The new FIFA policy will likely be attractive to the growing number of international owners of European clubs, including the wave of U.S. investors in the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1, and state-backed teams like Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City, Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain and Saudi-owned Newcastle.

"It's not part of our current plans, it really isn't," Premier League CEO Richard Masters said at a news conference last month when asked about taking games abroad in light of the Relevent lawsuit.

FIFA is now creating a panel of 10-15 people representing soccer stakeholders to advise within months on amending the rules on out-of-territory games.

The rules were last amended in 2014 and require consent for out-of-territory club games from the FIFA member federation and confederation hosting them, and the member federation of the teams.

Attempts since then to have European league games abroad, including taking Barcelona to Miami in 2019, were blocked as U.S. promoters seek to give fans more than just preseason exhibition games involving the world’s best club teams.

Back in 2018, Infantino opposed the Spanish league’s international ambitions, saying he would "prefer to see a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S."

Now FIFA has directed its working group, which is yet to be appointed, to consider fairness and giving "advance notice to fans who may miss the opportunity to attend a home or away match in the home territory."

Other factors for the FIFA panel include “respect for the recognized structure of international football” and potential disruption to fans, teams and leagues in the country hosting out-of-territory games.

England and Germany is home to some of the most activist and campaigning fans, whose objections to the Super League project in April 2021 helped it to fail. The plan was pushed by storied clubs Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus and was supported by American-owned clubs Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Spanish Super Cup games taken to Saudi Arabia are currently under criminal investigation.


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