SHANGHAI, Nov 24, 2008 (AFP) - AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam says he is now firmly in favour of the English Premier League's controversial plans to play a 39th round of fixtures, with Asia keen to play host.
Bin Hammam changed his mind after meeting with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore in London last month.
"I'm convinced that if they want to go ahead with their plan, and I'm not sure if they want to, they are welcome in Asia," he told AFP.
Bin Hammam, in Shanghai this week for the AFC's annual awards, was instrumental in the Premier League's decision to withdraw their scheme in February after launching a scathing attack on the idea.
At the time, he feared that the popularity of English football was already acting as a barrier to the development of Asia's own leagues and national sides, and that bringing EPL games to the region would worsen the impact.
But Scudamore has been working on a fine-tuned version with club chairmen, and Bin Hammam is now convinced that the Premier League intends to leave a positive legacy in Asia rather than exploiting the lucrative region.
"Our approach to that idea is that we would like to see the EPL work hand-in-hand with UEFA, the AFC and FIFA to implement such a scheme outside of England," he said.
"Definitely I would support that idea.
"I think the EPL are mature enough to understand that it is not all about money, but it is about what legacy they can leave behind them in Asia and how they can support other clubs and leagues in Asia to come up with their football.
"This is what is now on the agenda of the Premier League."
Asian cities touted as possible venues when the idea was first floated included Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Singapore.
But the concept of a top-flight fixture played overseas is far from a done deal, with plenty of opposition still to overcome, although Scudamore insisted last month the idea would come to fruition.
"We knew the reaction (to the '39th game') would be somewhat extreme and we knew it was going to be difficult," he said in London.
"It would be ridiculous to say the reaction has not pushed us back -- if not to the drawing board, then certainly the think tank. It has probably pushed the timelines back."
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