League chief vows to convert 39th game doubters
Wednesday 20 February 2008
The Premier League's ambition to stage an "international round" of games from 2011 is "certainly not a dead duck", its chief executive, Richard Scudamore, insisted to a parliamentary committee yesterday, although he agreed that the plans would need backing from Fifa, the FA and the Football League to go ahead.
The league is in the early stages of exploring ways to expand its global appeal through staging games overseas, perhaps but not certainly by playing a 39th game. Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, has been among the critics, although Scudamore will meet Blatter late next week in Switzerland to try to persuade him there are positive aspects to the plan, including charitable elements.
Blatter would only need to agree to further exploration of the idea – which is quite possible – to give the league breathing space to work on detail.
"Clearly we are not going to take this forward if it doesn't meet with some form of acquiescence from Fifa," Scudamore told the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport committee, which actually spent most of its hearing looking at a wider, separate issue of European sport.
"Certainly the FA and Football League will have to be comfortable with whatever move and direction we take," he added. "We have got until January 2009 to shape any proposals, to consult widely and properly, and to see how we manage to move forward with what is now a global sporting phenomenon."
The FA's chairman, Lord Triesman, told the committee he had various concerns about the so-called "39th step", including the FA's relationship with Fifa, and fixture congestion.
Scudamore and Triesman were both quizzed by a variety of MPs, some of whom described the international round as "daft", "barmy" and "bent". The last of those descriptions was made not to insinuate corruption, but to state an extra game would skew the traditional fixture list of teams playing one home game and one away game against each other side.
Scudamore said: "If [the idea] is deemed not to be worth it we will think again about our global expansion ... It's certainly not a dead duck – it has only just started, and we have only had 10 days of a year-long consultation process.
"This is a set of proposals which is a work in progress – and yes, it has had some hostile reaction ... but it's still in its infancy."
Mike Hall, MP for Weaver Vale, pointed out that a relegation-threatened club could end up playing the title-holders three times. "It's already fatally flawed – it's a completely barmy idea," he said.
In fact, no precise format has been worked out. There could be a random draw for the 39th game. Or the clubs first and second in the table could face each other, with third versus fourth and so on down to 19th versus 20th. All options remain open.
The FA's board – keen not to upset Blatter as the FA bids for the 2018 World Cup – will discuss the Premier League's plan on Thursday. Triesman, who became the first independent chairman of the FA earlier this month, told the committee: "I have been very clear from the beginning that whatever is proposed must not damage the domestic competitions or prospects of the national team.
"Fixture congestion is a real issue, and I have not seen solutions to this yet. Secondly, I am quite clear that the relationships with international bodies have to be sustained – not just because of England's bid for the 2018 World Cup, although that is very significant for us and it would be foolish of anyone to pretend that it is not."
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