The Premier League’s Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore, was on the BBC’s Sportsweek radio programme yesterday defending his plan for a 39th round of Premier League games played abroad, and gave a bravura performance in which he cleverly substituted the word “strategy” for “greed” without missing a beat.
Another word he liked to use was “globalising”. It seems that if the Premier League doesn’t do this, it will end up in the “slow lane” as everyone else is going to do it anyway. All, of course, to protect the domestic game.
The problem is, football is already a global game and the national federations and regional confederations who run the sport outside England don’t seem very keen on the idea of hosting matches.
An article this morning in the Daily Mail explained that:
Global opposition to the Premier League’s ‘international round’ is growing so fast that North America now looks to be the only region that will embrace the beleaguered project.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, by demanding immediate discussion at the world governing body’s next executive committee meeting, and UEFA chief Michael Platini, with his withering criticism, have already demonstrated fierce resistance.
Now Mohammed Bin Hammam, the Asian confederation president and the third most powerful administrator in world football, has told advisers he is also massively opposed to the playing of a 39th Premier League match in five different countries over a weekend.
Hammam’s AFC football empire stretches to 46 member countries, including many of the destinations being pencilled in by the Premier League such as Australia, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
And, together with his powerful ally, Japan’s Junji Ogura, the AFC high command could be a formidable bridge too far for the Premier League’s plans.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore can also discount Africa where there is not the money available to make matches worthwhile.
The South American CONMEBOL have strong domestic leagues, while Oceania does not have the necessary infrastructure.
America, then: one of the first to embrace the idea was the L.A. Galaxy’s boss Alexi Lalas. But more importantly, U.S. Soccer head Sunil Gulati today suggested they would not be in favour of it if FIFA remain opposed, whatever Alexi Lalas’ demented dreams might be. He told BBC Sport that,
“We’ve been reluctant to have official games played in the US.
“We’ll be guided by Fifa on this matter. But if it’s not in line with its rules then we won’t sanction it.
“We had a similar proposal 10 years ago when a team playing in Los Angeles wanted to play in the Mexican league. We didn’t let that happen and Concacaf (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) said no.
“We understand it’s a global sport but it’s about nurturing the home game.
“If Fifa said ‘OK, it’s up to the relevant FA’s, then we would look at it (the Premier League proposal).
“We have got a great relationship with the English FA and there’s a lot of good reasons to look at it. But there are also some issues that we have got which would cause us to be very hesitant.”
Scudamore has suggested the Premier League might ignore the objections of FIFA and UEFA, saying there is no straight line of authority, but it looks like this won’t fly with the likes of U.S. Soccer. And why would it, when countries like the U.S. and Australia are gearing up for a battle with England for the 2018 World Cup?
But if FIFA does approve it — and I wouldn’t rule anything out if Jerome Valcke is the pivot man on this, as he apparently is — would Gulati be right to oppose it considering the interests of American soccer? We’ve heard a lot about the opposition of English fans concerned about the consequences for the game locally. But how do soccer fans in other countries feel? Would the publicity be good for the development of MLS by spreading the word about soccer, or would it set it back as Eurosnobs save their dollars for the annual Man Utd jaunt and ignore their local league? What’s your view?