'39th game' moves a step closer as Fifa softens stance

Fifa last night left the door open to an "international round" of Premier League games overseas with a cordial statement that welcomed the Premier League's request to postpone a meeting on the issue, scheduled for tomorrow.

The League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, had been due to fly to Zurich to meet the world governing body's president, Sepp Blatter, to provide more details about the plans, which have been widely criticised, including by Fifa, since being announced on 7 February.

But the League yesterday requested that the meeting be called off to allow it more time to talk to interested parties and refine details of the scheme. The League had always intended to undertake an 11-month consultation process.

It was possible that Fifa might have declared the international round "unsustainable in its current format", as the Football Association did last week, or been more negative still. Blatter's early reaction to reports of the plan included the line: "I don't really know whether I should be appalled or whether I should laugh about it."

But Fifa instead released a statement last night which gave the League considerable succour, saying: "It is acknowledged that the Premier League wishes to conduct further internal studies and research. Fifa welcomes the Premier League's decision and initiative, which re-establishes the positive and constructive relations between the FA, the FA Premier League and world football's governing body. Fifa is happy with this development and thanks the Premier League leadership for its constructive approach."

If this was Fifa's way of killing the so-called "39th step" for good, it was a strange way to do it. Rather, it seems Blatter will be willing to listen, at least, when the League has put flesh on the bones of its proposal.

The FA cited several reasons why the plans are problematic, but the League has also acknowledged these. Foremost among them are fixture congestion – the international round will be in January – and a distortion of the season's 38-game home and away symmetry.

These are the very issues which the League will now discuss with its clubs and bodies who might be affected, including the FA, the Football League – League Cup semi-final dates might need moving – and the Premier League clubs. The League will also hold further talks with cities that have already expressed an interest in staging games.

A statement from the Premier League said: "This project is still very much in its infancy, was always subject to development, clarification and wide consultation and we remain disappointed that these facts and many others were lost when early opinions were formed by many without any detailed knowledge. Having consulted with Fifa, we have decided to delay our planned visit whilst we conduct further work prior to addressing them and their confederations formally."

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