MLS' Don Garber against staging league games in other countries

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NEW YORK -- MLS commissioner Don Garber has voiced his opposition to leagues scheduling regular season matches outside of their home countries.

The comment was made at MLS Media Day as Garber was about to head to Zurich, Switzerland for a meeting of the FIFA Stakeholders Committee in which the topic is among the agenda items. The 23-person committee is chaired by CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, and includes Garber and U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro.

The topic interests the game's stakeholders in North America. Last year, sports promoter Relevent Sports filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the USSF. The suit was filed after the USSF refused to sanction a match from Spain's La Liga that Relevent wanted to hold in Miami. The USSF said it was simply following FIFA Statutes. The Royal Spanish Football Federation was also opposed to the match.

Relevent organizes the International Champions Cup every year in the U.S. and elsewhere, with many of the world's biggest clubs using it as part of their preseason preparations. SUM is competitor of Relevent's in the business of promoting international soccer matches.

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"The decision on whether regular season games are played outside their home countries, it's not a decision that I have any role in making," said Garber in an exclusive interview with ESPN. "That's a decision that FIFA, the confederations and the national associations will make."

Garber added: "My opinion on it is I don't think it's the best thing for the sport. I think regular season games should be played in home markets, and that's been supported by even in the one issue we have going on now in Spain. The Spanish Federation doesn't think it makes sense."


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The topic is gaining some attention in FIFA circles, however, and it's one the FIFA Stakeholders Committee will examine. The agenda for Thursday's meeting, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, includes one item that refers to "Official league matches played in the territory of another member federation: amendments to the FIFA International Match Rules" and another that mentions "Clubs participating in competitions of the territory of another member federation: applications covered by art. 73 of the FIFA Statutes."

Article 73 of FIFA's Statutes states "Associations, leagues or clubs that are affiliated to a member association may only join another member association or take part in competitions on that member association's territory under exceptional circumstances. In each case, authorisation must be given by both member associations, the respective confederation[s] and by FIFA."

Garber indicated that he doesn't subscribe to the idea that holding a game like a La Liga league match in the U.S. would raise the sport's profile in that country.

"This isn't really about what I think is good for our market. Because again, I have no role in that," said Garber. "I'm not trying to be cute. It's whether I think that a fan in a local city should lose a home regular season game. When you're only playing X number of them, it is not, in my view, in the best interest of the respective leagues.

"I represent my seat on the stakeholders committee as a World League Forum co-chair, and the respective leagues don't believe it's in their best interest. There might be one or two, but I feel very strongly that local fans should have the opportunity to see local games, and not for other purposes have those games played outside the home market."