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In Spain's Soccer Tiffs, Government Intervenes Again

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale (center) tries to get past Barcelona's Neymar (left) and Jordi Alba during the last Clasico match at Camp Nou stadium on March 22 in Barcelona.
Manu Fernandez

It's hard to imagine a world in which the U.S. federal government would involve itself in settling disputes over the dates of professional sports games.

Across the pond, though, it's a different story.

Wednesday, for the second time in two months, the Spanish government has intervened in a scheduling disagreement between the country's professional soccer league, La Liga, and its national soccer federation, RFEF.

In a country home to two of the richest football clubs in the world — Real Madrid and Barcelona — it's not surprising that the government wants to ensure exposure and maximize prosperity, but in reality, the scheduling disputes between two of Spain's most powerful soccer organizations are just part of the issue.

The most recent discord stems from a long-standing disagreement over TV broadcasting rights, which nearly resulted in the cancellation of games last season. La Liga President Javier Tebas favored proposed changes that would provide for more equitable TV broadcasting deals for the league's teams, while RFEF President Angel Maria Villar wanted to preserve a system that allowed teams to negotiate deals independently, a format favoring wealthy clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The proposed changes became law, but not before the disagreement turned personal. According to ESPN, Tebas said in March, "The clubs do not feel represented by the president of the RFEF. We don't have a problem with the RFEF, but rather, the problem is with the president of the RFEF."

The verbal shot was just one of many fired in the public feud between Spain's soccer institutions.

With the TV broadcasting fight settled, Wednesday's decision centered on the dates for two of the biggest La Liga games of the season, called the Clasicos, between football club giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The president of Spain's Consejo Superior de Deportes, Miguel Cardenal, mandated the dates be changed to those favored by La Liga. The first contest at Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernebeu was pushed from Nov. 8 to Nov. 22, and the second game at Barca's Camp Nou was moved back one week, from April 3 to April 10.

Early last month, Cardenal had to resolve another scheduling issue about the start date for the 2015-2016 season, that time ruling that the season would start Aug. 22, the date preferred by the RFEF.

It's unclear how much of the recent scheduling back-and-forth is related to bruised egos, but Spanish soccer fans looking forward to the upcoming season can perhaps be grateful the government is willing to play peacemaker.

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