Friday, 13 September 2019

Company behind bid to stage La Liga games in US takes football authority to court

Charlie Stillitano

The organiser of the annual pre-season International Champions Cup has started a legal case against US football authorities - a move that could bring the prospect of Premier League matches being played in the USA closer.

Relevent Sports tried to arrange a La Liga game between Barcelona and Girona in January but the plan was scrapped in the face of widespread opposition.

It subsequently attempted to host an Ecuadorian league game in the US on 5 May, but that also was blocked by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), even though Relevent said it had secured a stadium for the fixture and had received written approval from both Ecuador's league and its national association, plus the regional governing body.

In court papers lodged in New York, Relevent argues the USSF is acting in an anti-competitive manner.

It says the USSF allows the annual Mexican Super Cup and the Campeon de Campeones to be played in California.

These matches are organised by a rival match promoter, Soccer United Marketing (SUM). SUM is owned jointly by the Major League Soccer clubs and has exclusive rights to market the USA's men's and women's international teams - its close relationship with the USSF is presently the subject of legal cases.

No date has been set for the case to be heard.

Relevent also says world governing body Fifa's stated position that no domestic league matches should be played in other countries is an opinion, not a regulation.

Relevant is adamant its aim is only to host two or three La Liga games in the US every season, although the organisation's charismatic executive chairman Charlie Stillitano has previously said he would relish the chance to promote Premier League games in the country.

It has also noted that major US sports, specifically the NFL and Major League Baseball, have played regular season games in England to packed crowds over the past 12 months.

The Premier League has previously said it has no plans to schedule matches outside England. An international round - the so-called 39th game - was proposed in 2008 but two years later said the Premier League said it was no longer being considered.

The USSF declined to comment on Relevant's current legal action but referred to a statement issued when a previous law suit was received in April.

In it, it said: "When Relevent requested to host a competitive league match in Miami between two Ecuadorean clubs, their application went through our review process for international match approval, which we conduct on the more than a hundred applications we receive each year from dozens of promoters.

"As part of this review process, we reached out to the Ecuadorean Football Federation and [South American Football Confederation] Conmebol to confirm whether they were aware that the proposal involved a competitive league match. As of today, we have yet to receive a response to this inquiry.

"At the same time, we also reached out to Fifa and verified the Fifa Council's October 2018 confirmation stating 'the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association'."

Luis Manfredi, the chief executive of the Ecuadorian league, used to work for the Spanish league and it is suggested by some that current La Liga president Javier Tebas, regarded as the driving force behind the plan to host a Spanish league game in the USA, is using connections within the Ecuadorian league to test the current regulations.

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