By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – La Liga has pledged to persevere with a long-term strategy of taking games outside of Spain after immediate plans to play Barcelona’s January match against Girona in Miami were derailed by the champions’ decision to back out of the fixture.
Following a board meeting on Monday, Barcelona withdrew from the game “after seeing the lack of consensus surrounding the proposal”, ending a protracted saga since La Liga applied to move the game from Catalonia to Florida in September.
The league’s organising body accepted that the game, set to take place on Jan. 26, could not be played abroad but pledged to continue its legal battle with the Spanish football federation (RFEF), the most vocal opponent of the plan.
“We regret to disappoint our fans in the U.S. and will work to, in the shortest possible time, stage an official La Liga game in the U.S., just like the major American leagues stage games outside their borders,” a La Liga statement said.
“La Liga will continue the planned action, so an official league game can be played outside of Spain. La Liga is convinced that the RFEF is not acting in accordance with the law.”
The league also said Barca’s withdrawal did not affect its 15-year agreement with entertainment firm Relevent to promote Spanish football in North America.
Last month, La Liga filed a lawsuit in a Spanish court against the federation, which turned down its application to have the game moved and whose president Luis Rubiales has loudly protested the league’s plans.
La Liga president Javier Tebas told reporters on Tuesday that he understood Barca’s decision, while adding the league would not relent on its future plans.
“I don’t see Barca’s decision as a betrayal. Of course I’d have liked to have played on Jan. 26 but I have to congratulate the clubs for allowing us to get to this point as it will help us in the future,” he said.
“This is not a victory for Rubiales, because all that has happened is this request has been withdrawn, but the demand to play a game outside of Spain is still there.”
Girona, meanwhile, said it accepted Barca’s withdrawal but continued to support the idea of playing games overseas.
Barca’s withdrawal came a day after the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors was moved from Buenos Aires to Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium after fan violence in Argentina saw the initial game postponed.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, however, who has opposed La Liga’s plans, has stated that the South American championship tie was moved due to exceptional circumstances and that it would not usher in other finals being played in different territories.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by John O’Brien)