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Could the ISL be playing regular league games in the Middle East?

Just days before the start of the Indian Super League – Season 6 last month, the ISL’s chairperson Nita Ambani had stated that the league wanted to play matches abroad.

Nita Ambani had said in a media statement, “I do want to take it (the ISL) abroad, at least play one or two football games in the Middle East, in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and then see how we can expand. We are a young league, just five years into the business, and we’re looking forward to taking Indian football to the world. However, at this moment, my focus is to encourage and promote sports in India.”

But the idea raises the question, could the ISL be playing regular league games in the Middle East?

The idea when one thinks about it seriously sounds really interesting and also logical, but there are footballing reasons why it can’t be implemented, at least not regular season games.

Unlike North American sports leagues – NFL, NBA or MLB, who have played league matches abroad, regular season matches in football (soccer) can only be played in their own country or territory.

There are cross-country leagues, like Major League Soccer in North America where US and Canadian teams play, you have teams from Wales in the English football system and AS Monaco plays in the French Ligue 1.

But there are no leagues in the world, who are allowed to play their regular season games abroad though a few have tried and are still trying to do the same.

A few seasons back the English Premier League considered of playing a 39th league match, which wouldn’t be on British soil but somewhere around the world to promote the EPL and their clubs, but after heavy criticism in England besides UEFA and FIFA not welcoming the idea, the Premier League shelved the same.

Then there is the Spanish LaLiga which deperately wants to play one of their regular season games in North America. LaLiga has submitted a formal request to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) for the Villarreal-Atlético Madrid fixture be played at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on December 6.

The RFEF, UEFA, CONCACAF, and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), among others, had not approved the game, and LaLiga will once again seek the approval of these bodies.

This second attempt comes after an earlier FC Barcelona vs FC Girona match in January 2019 was cancelled though LaLiga have a 15-year partnership with Relevent Sports to play at least one match per season overseas to promote the league in North America. The matter is now in US courts, who shouldn’t be dealing in these matters.

Now coming back to the Indian Super League and the idea of matches in the Middle East, be in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Muscat or elsewhere in the Gulf, the ISL would face similar problems as LaLiga if they want to play in the Middle East. Be it FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the local football associations, be it the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and others, they will all be against such plans as it would hurt their local football.

An ISL game in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Muscat or elsewhere in the Gulf would be an Indian festival with large crowds likely to attend!

But one should not directly kill the idea as it isn’t possible, but maybe tweak the whole idea a little to make it possible. If regular season games are not allowed, then why not consider doing league organised pre-season friendlies in the Gulf? This way Indians in the region could watch ISL teams in action, the teams could generate interest amongst potential sponsors and fans to grow the league and the brand of the clubs.

Its an idea to follow but it needs to be done properly!

About Arunava Chaudhuri

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