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Thailand plans to merge rival soccer leagues

BANGKOK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Thailand plans to spend $4.4 million merging its two rival soccer leagues in a bid to revamp the domestic game, soccer chiefs said on Monday.

The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) and the state-run Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) had agreed to merge their leagues to fall in line with top leagues around the world, Worawi Makudi, secretary-general of the FAT said.

'We want to have the Bangkok teams and the provincial teams playing together in one national league and we hope this will make it more successful,' Worawi said.

'It will make our league like others around the world and we have the support of the Asian Football Confederation.'

Thailand's national team has been a major force in Southeast Asian soccer for decades, although the standard of its domestic leagues falls behind those of Singapore and Vietnam, which draw bigger crowds and offer higher salaries to attract quality players.

The Thailand Premier League, which includes teams from in and around Bangkok, and the provincial Thailand Professional League, were expected to join together in 2007, Worawi said.

The FAT gave no details of the estimated cost of the plan, although the Thai-language Daily News said the merger would cost £2million.

The proposal will be sent to Thailand's Tourism and Sports Minister Suvit Yodmani for approval on Wednesday.

Thai national team coach Charnwit Pholcheewin said the merger would raise the standard of the Thai game and help foster better players for the national side.

'This is very good news for us because we want to play at a higher level our league will be like those around the world,' Charnwit said.

'We will see more of the provincial teams and find more players for the future to strengthen the national team.'