Bin Hammam hints at Asian venue for '39th game'
Saturday 21 June 2008
The head of Asian football has opened the door for the Premier League to stage their controversial 'international round' of fixtures in the region provided they can convince the Football Association to back the idea.
Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, initially condemned the idea of Game 39, as it was called, that would see the 20 Premier League clubs play an extra round of matches in foreign cities over one weekend in January, but he has now changed his stance.
That U-turn will give huge hope to those clubs backing the move – a final decision has yet to be taken by the clubs, who have asked Premier League officials to explore a number of options aimed at international expansion.
Bin Hammam, who met league chief executive Richard Scudamore in China earlier this month, said: "I had a chance to talk to the Premier League and I told them, 'If you want to come to Asia I will welcome you. I don't have a problem with that. Fans in Asia they love to see your football.'
"I would welcome the Premier League playing in Asia but I would like to see the Premier League come to me through their national association or their confederation. In football, that structure has to be maintained otherwise we are going to have chaos.
"If that happens, I will be the first one to welcome them. This is the only way. We can't accept it any differently in Asia.
"Yes there is a lot of money in football and a few clubs are getting the biggest share of this income from TV and sponsorship but this shouldn't stop us from doing things in the right way."
The Middle East or Hong Kong would prove likely destinations for any international fixtures.
However, Bin Hammam warned no country would be able to talk to the Premier League without the AFC and Fifa's consent and the latter's hard-line stance is an obvious stumbling block.
"According to statutes they [the Premier League] could not negotiate individually with national associations," he added.
"There are procedures and approval has to be granted by Fifa and the confederation itself for any club or national team from another continent that would like to play elsewhere. Nobody can play without confederational approval."
If the plan does come to fruition, Bin Hammam also insisted fixtures would only be sanctioned in Asia if it would prove beneficial to the host country.
"I am a football fan. I would love to see the best football played in Asia," he said.
"But don't come as businessmen, you are footballers, you are artists. You have to leave a legacy behind you.
"A legacy that is going to benefit the youth of the country, the club, the national association. Don't come as bloodsuckers. We are not business people, we are sporting people and we have to act that way."
The league's next task if they are to revive the international round is to persuade the FA, who expressed "serious reservations" when it was announced.
Uefa and Fifa remain major stumbling blocks however – Uefa president Michel Platini labelled it "crazy" and Fifa president Sepp Blatter insisted: "This will never happen – at least this will not happen as long as I am the president of Fifa."
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