WASHINGTON — La Liga’s intention—or hope—to stage an official game in the United States hasn’t been embraced so far in Spain, where players have threatened to strike over the issue, and doesn’t appear to have the backing of world governing body FIFA. Or, at least, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino.
In the U.S. capital on Tuesday for a meeting with President Donald Trump to commemorate and discuss the awarding of the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to the USA, Mexico and Canada, Infantino confirmed that FIFA’s approval is required if La Liga intends to play abroad. And while acknowledging that he’s “just the FIFA president,” Infantino said, “I think I would prefer much more a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S.”
Two weeks ago, La Liga and U.S. sports marketing company Relevent, which organizes the friendly International Champions Cup series each summer, unveiled a 15-year joint venture to promote the Spanish circuit in the USA, highlighted by the playing of La Liga matches on American soil. Their hope was to begin with one game this season and expand in future years. Although exhibitions, as well as Spanish, French and Italian super cup games, have been played abroad, staging official European league contests in foreign countries is unprecedented. An English proposal to schedule a 39th Premier League game for each member club and play it abroad was floated in 2008, but never came to fruition.
Opposition in Spain was immediate and fierce. The Asociación de Futbolistas Españoles, the national players union, met last week in Madrid, where president David Aganzo told reporters, “The players don't want to play overseas. Things have to be done in a more coherent way and with common sense. A decision of this magnitude, that affects players, referees and fans, was taken unilaterally and is a lack of respect.”
Aganzo added, “We are going to try to see that it doesn't reach that extreme [of a strike]. But we are willing to go right to the last option if it is necessary.”
The La Liga/Relevent plan has a few hurdles to clear before the players feel forced to act. Speaking Tuesday about an array of topics with SI.com and The Washington Post, Infantino confirmed that FIFA, UEFA, Concacaf, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Real Federación Española de Fútbol all must approve the initiative.
“There are procedures in place for these things, so we will wait to receive anything official and then we’ll look into it,” Infantino said. “There are rules, regulations, [that] everyone complies with. Such a proposal has to be approved by the respective associations, by the respective confederations and by FIFA, and there has to be special reason for it.”
It’s not clear what constitutes a “special reason,” but it’s not hard to imagine why the USSF and Concacaf might be wary of the intrusion, for example. UEFA also may want to protect its assets. If La Liga’s plan is approved, more leagues surely will come asking for permission to send games and players—and pursue revenue—abroad, thereby dissolving significant parts of soccer’s global framework.
Interestingly, Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, was very much against the Premier League’s “Game 39” proposal. The long-time FIFA president said the idea constituted “a joke” and an “abuse of association football,” and he warned it could sink England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup (which may have been sunk anyway by other abuses).
Infantino issued no such threats Tuesday, but he seems to have inherited an aversion to allowing leagues to expand beyond their borders from his predecessor.