By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Faced with massive opposition from sporting institutions over its plan to play a regular season game between Barcelona and Girona in Miami, La Liga has launched a petition to garner mass support for its troubled project.
The Miami match between Girona and Barcelona would be the first game to take place as part of a 15-year deal struck between La Liga and entertainment company Relevent to play one Spanish regular-season game in the U.S. every year.
"This national grassroots campaign will highlight the growing popularity of soccer in America and the desire from American fans to bring the greatest soccer league in the world to the U.S. to play the first ever European club regular season match held outside of Europe," said a statement from La Liga.
The Spanish football federation (RFEF) has put the brakes on the league’s plans by demanding more information on January’s game, which must also be approved by the United States soccer federation and regional bodies UEFA and CONCACAF.
The proposals were dealt a fresh blow when the president of world soccer's organising body FIFA, Gianni Infantino, declared at a council meeting last week in Rwanda that "official match leagues must be played within the territory of the respective member association".
La Liga has stated it will take its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if FIFA formally opposes its plans.
The launch of the petition, meanwhile, is an attempt by the league and Relevent to counter the institutional opposition by showing that the project counts on grassroots support.
"La Liga is planning on bringing a regular season match to America for the first time ever -- but we need your help to make this event happen," said a statement on the website of the petition.
"Some of the key decision makers are falsely claiming it won’t be good for the game in the U.S. So we, the fans, need to fight for this match by telling them: It’s good for the fans. It’s good for the game.
"Are you in? The more support we have, the harder we’ll be to ignore."
Stephen Ross, chairman and owner of Relevent, added that playing a Spanish top-flight game in the U.S. would further accelerate the growth of football in the country.
"All of America’s top sports leagues -- The NBA, The NFL, and MLB -- have played regular season games all over the world to reach international fans and have great success popularising these sports globally," said Ross.
"We firmly believe this will have the same impact in increasing the popularity of soccer here in the U.S., with more kids playing and more fans watching."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)