Liam Morgan

An announcement from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) last week regarding the location of its Super Cup final represents a worrying trend for supporters of the so-called beautiful game.

The CAF Executive Committee said the match, played between the winners of the African Champions League and second-tier Confederation Cup, would be held outside of the continent for the first time.

The venue? Doha, nearly 5,500 kilometres from Tunis, home to Champions League winners Esperance de Tunis, and over 7,000km from Casablanca, the city which houses Confederation Cup victors Raja Casablanca.

By staging the game on a different continent, the CAF has become the latest governing body to put its own needs and wishes above those of the sport’s most important stakeholders – the fans.

Unsurprisingly, supporters of Esperance, whose African Champions League triumph was their third in their history, have reacted angrily to the decision. According to BBC Sport, the news has sparked a wave of discontent among "die-hard fans" – those who will back the team and the club through thick and thin.

When rumours of a switch from Africa to Qatar first emerged, the club itself had a strong stance, with headlines suggesting they would refuse to play if the change was confirmed by CAF.

Since the announcement was made, there does not seem to have been any public statement from Esperance, who may feasibly be assessing their legal options before they make any comment.

After all, the decision from the CAF Executive Committee deprives the Tunisian club of hosting the Super Cup final as it traditionally takes place at the stadium of the Champions League winners, although other African cities and countries have staged it in the past.

Tradition appears to mean nothing to governing bodies like CAF, who are far more concerned about protecting their own interests rather than those of the supporters, the lifeblood of the game and without whom football simply would not survive.

Of course, the CAF is not the first and it will not be the last to make such a move.

La Liga has sparked controversy in recent months after signing a lucrative 15-year deal with media company Relevent Sports to expand the competition’s reach, part of which includes playing one regular season game in the United States.

Those in power in the corridors of Spain’s top flight had earmarked FC Barcelona versus Girona in January as the first La Liga match to be held outside of Europe before opposition to the idea scuppered their plans.

Barcelona, one of Spain’s most famous clubs, confirmed in a statement last week that they had withdrawn their support for the match against Girona taking place in Miami. Crucially, however, the same statement reiterated their backing for project in principle.

Barcelona were due to play in the first regular La Liga season game to be held outside of Spain ©Getty Images
Barcelona were due to play in the first regular La Liga season game to be held outside of Spain ©Getty Images

It seems inevitable that one day in the future, two La Liga teams will clash in a regular season match in the US. It is a case of when, not if.

Such a development should be hugely concerning to football fans in Spain and further afield. Relevent Sports executive chairman Charlie Stillitano has already publicly intimated their intention of taking the La Liga model to other domestic leagues worldwide, including the Premier League in England.

As always with these types of projects and ideas, the first step is often the trickiest. Once the foundations are established, there is scope for it to grow and expand.

Take the National Football League (NFL) as an example. London hosted the first regular season game outside of the US in 2007 and it took just six years for the city to host more than one match in the same campaign, although there have been teething problems along the way.

That number has increased exponentially since as three NFL matches took place in London in 2014 and 2015 and four were held in 2016, before that number grew to five last year. Mexico City has also since got in on the act, staging a game in 2016 and 2017. A match was planned there in November but it was relocated to Los Angeles owing to concerns surrounding the pitch.

While the vast majority of these games have been a success, with sell-out crowds complimenting the fanfare surrounding them, it is fair to say the fan culture is different in the US compared with Spain and England, for example.

The English Premier League has also considered holding a match abroad but controversial plans for a 39th game were shelved for the meantime in July 2017 after outgoing executive chairman Richard Scudamore admitted it was not possible in the current climate.

Thankfully, the dissent from fans was stern enough to spark a rethink among the bigwigs.

Scudamore did, however, insist the door to the idea remained open. "The clubs would like to do it - but we're also realistic that until the fan reaction, the political reaction and the general media reaction is warmer towards it, it's not going to happen," he said last July.

Should the Premier League follow the NFL, it would mark another demonstration of the lack of respect and consideration given to supporters. Clubs in England’s top division - and further down - are already at the mercy of broadcasters and television companies, who decide what dates and what times matches kick off, which has an adverse effect on fans.

National Football League matches in London have been a success but the model should not be replicated by football in countries such as England and Spain ©Getty Images
National Football League matches in London have been a success but the model should not be replicated by football in countries such as England and Spain ©Getty Images

There have been too many farcical instances to document since broadcasters effectively seized control of the sport, with fans having to embark on long journeys at ludicrous times just to make it to the ground in time for the first whistle and others having to cancel their plans as a result of a change in date or time.

A penny for the thoughts of fans of Esperance and Raja Casablanca, then, who are being forced to travel thousands – rather than hundreds – of miles to watch their team play in a cup final.

Hockey World Cup shows best of 11-a-side format amid hockey fives takeover talk

Speaking of finals, the recent gold medal match at the Hockey World Cup in India brought an end to a tournament which many fans of the sport claimed had shown how there is no need for dramatic changes to the traditional 11 versus 11 format.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) have embarked on a concerted campaign to develop and promote the "Hockey 5s" discipline, which has featured at the past two editions of the Summer Youth Olympic Games.

It has led to fears within the hockey community that the shorter format may one day replace its bigger brother, although FIH chief executive Thierry Weil insisted that would not be the case in an interview he gave in November.

Yesterday's dramatic final, won by Belgium in a shootout against The Netherlands, has strengthened the case for the FIH to keep its focus on the 11-a-side version which remains its staple and which has been played at every Olympic Games since Antwerp 1928.

"Nerve wracking right to the end. FIH - don't tell me that Hockey 5s can match that," said one Twitter user.