Asian president boosts Premier League plan for 39th game

9 October 2008 14:25

LONDON (AFP) - Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, is ready to do a u-turn and back the Premier League's controversial plan to play a 39th round of fixtures in cities across the world.

Bin Hammam was instrumental in the Premier League's decision to withdraw their scheme in February after launching a scathing attack on the idea.

Several venues in his Confederation, including Kuala Lumper, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo, were targeted as likely hosts of the additional Premier League game, so Bin Hamman's criticism inevitably threw a roadblock across the plan.

But Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore is working on a fine-tuned version with club chairmen and has realised it is essential to get the support of Asian's leading football figure.

A meeting between Scudamore and Bin Hammam has been arranged in London this week to underline the Premier League's intention to leave a positive legacy in Asia.

That has put Bin Hammam in a more conciliatory mood and he is willing to change his mind - as long as he sees concrete evidence that the English game will lay foundations for the long-term development of Asian football rather than just use the fixtures as a means to rake in huge sums of television and gate revenue.

"We had no contact at all before the news came out, zero. Their approach has changed now," Bin Hammam told journalists in London on Thursday.

"I am going to see a presentation with Richard (Scudamore) about what the Premier League can do to help football in Asia and around the world. We should be partners and know what is the benefit for us.

"I want all the technical assistance they can provide. I know some people will think financial assistance can be part of a deal but I am not welcoming that.

"Any assistance has to go to providing coaching, workshops and offering their academies to the young people.

"We want them to convey their experiences to us. We want them to share with us their secret of success; to tell us what are the keys that can help our football. By showing us administration, technical level and supporting our coaches.

"Until now, no Asian referees can take part in European football, even in the third level. By bringing our officials into their environment, these are things which will benefit us.

"There can be financial assistance but we must teach the people how to fish and survive for life and don't just give them the fish."

Bin Hammam, 60, was stunned when he first heard the Premier League plan but as a lifelong Liverpool fan he has always had an affinity with English football, so he is determined to foster a strong relationship with Scudamore.

"The moment some leagues are going to be played outside their territories, it is shocking news," he said. "You just want to digest it. To see the English league played in China or wherever is strange.

"I am not saying I have changed my mind totally but they are exploring ideas.

"In the past there were no ideas but now they know people want something left behind and they are up to the mark. There are no issues between Asia, myself and the Premier League.

"Whatever plans the Premier League has for its future the AFC is ready to advise and support.

"I'm proud of our relationship with the Premier League. There is too much foreign football on our continent but I'm a big fan of the Premier League."

The popularity of the Premier League in Asia has grown quickly over the last decade as television networks in the region feed fans a vast diet of live coverage from the English top-flight.

Bin Hammam isn't worried about losing fans to the Premier League but he would prefer a poriton of the television to remain in Asia.

"Most foreign revenue for the Premier League is coming from Asia. People love to see the Premier League clubs," he said.

"It doesn't worry me because of the fans. It worries and makes me nervous because of the tv channels that are willing to pay these huge amounts to show the Premier League and not to broadcast their local leagues.

"That is a worry, not fans attaching themselves to the Premier League."

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