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European soccer leagues insist they have no plans for games in the US. A lawsuit could change that

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GENEVA — Leaders of top European soccer leagues say they have no plans to take games to the United States, though acknowledged that could change pending a lawsuit in Manhattan.

FIFA has shifted its long-time policy of blocking domestic league games being played on the territory of another member federation by withdrawing this month from an antitrust suit filed by U.S. promoter Relevent Sports. The suit is also against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

If league games could be organized abroad, European leagues and clubs — especially in England and Spain — could expect offers from the United States, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

“It’s not part of our current plans, it really isn’t,” English Premier League CEO Richard Masters said on Friday at a news conference after the 34-nation European Leagues group met in London.

Still, Masters said uncertainty over the court case meant “no one quite knows exactly what is happening but the door looks ajar potentially in America, at any rate, for matches abroad.”

European Leagues managing director Jacco Swart said taking games abroad was “definitely not on the agenda” of the group yet.

“I’m not saying never but currently it’s not a point on our agenda,” said Swart, a former executive at the Netherlands league, who noted U.S. sports leagues routinely schedule games in London and other European cities.

FIFA forcefully blocked a 2018 plan by Spain’s La Liga to take a game involving Barcelona, then still with Lionel Messi in the team, and Girona to Miami where Messi now plays.

The FIFA policy is less clear now, and Masters lamented how Europe’s leagues had poor relations with the Zurich-based organization.

There was no “meaningful dialogue” with FIFA, Masters said, while UEFA gave a seat on its decision-making executive committee to the leagues group.

“There is a chasm really between the style of consultation with leagues between UEFA and FIFA, where there is none,” the Premier League official said.

FIFA’s first monthlong Club World Cup will kick off in June next year, with 12 European clubs among the 32 teams playing in the United States. Real Madrid and Manchester City qualified to be in it, but American-owned Manchester United and Barcelona did not.

Tens of millions of dollars in prize money paid by FIFA risks further widening wealth gaps among European clubs, and adds up to seven more games on player workload for teams that reach the final.

The 2024-25 season will add more congestion to the calendar. The Champions League and second-tier Europa League expand with four extra teams, for a total of 36, playing eight games instead of six before the knockout rounds. Those games block two new midweek slots in January.

Swart said pressure on players and the soccer calendar was coming from international games, not domestic ones.

“It’s getting to a tipping point,” Masters said, warning about “players’ ability to perform at their best in competitions they want to play in.”

The 20-team, August-to-May format of the Premier League has stayed the same since 1995. Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A also have 20 teams each playing 38 games. Germany’s Bundesliga has 18 teams.

“What has changed over the last few decades,” Masters said, “is the march, really, of international and regional competitions.”

The European Leagues groups wants a formal working agreement with FIFA, and on Friday called for a “more transparent, objective and non-discriminatory set of regulations to govern professional .”

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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