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Feb 7, 2008

Premier League games to be played abroad?

England's 20 Premier League clubs are planning a radical change that would see each team playing an extra match a season in a foreign city.

Under the proposal, from the 2010-11 season in one weekend in January there would be an extra 'international round' with 10 matches played abroad in cities such as Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, Sydney, Johannesburg, Dubai and Beijing.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said: 'The 'international round' is an exciting and innovative proposal that needs careful consideration before being introduced.

'However, this concept recognises the truly global appeal of the Premier League whilst understanding that the traditions of the English game have always underpinned our success.

'We believe that an 'international round' of matches will enhance the strength of the Premier League as a competition; create extra interest in all 20 Premier League Clubs at home and abroad; and allow increased investment in talent development and acquisition, facilities as well as our football development and community programmes.'

A meeting of the 20 clubs this morning agreed in principle to the plan. The final decision whether to proceed with the plan will be made in January next year.

The idea would be to cash in on existing interest in the Premier League around the world, and the extra money generated from TV would be split equally among the 20 clubs.

The details of how the system would work have yet to be finalised but it would mean each club playing 39 games, with a draw to pick out each side's overseas match.

There would be a sporting criteria, such as league position, to decide who plays who, and under the proposal, points earned in the overseas game would count towards the final league position.

Scudamore added: 'The globalisation of sport is both an opportunity and a challenge; one that needs addressing in a responsible way.

'We are a better competition for being a cosmopolitan league and have benefited from our increased international reach.

'Nonetheless, it is critical we retain our English character by improving our efforts to produce home-grown talent, deepening our commitment to community engagement and continuing our investment in the grass-roots.'

'We will only go where we are welcome,' said Scudamore. 'We will also only do this if it is sanctioned. There are logistical challenges as it is and we will work with FIFA and UEFA to make sure the whole thing is viable.

'We have not asked them already. But there has to be a sense of geography to make the plan work. There is no point in all of these matches taking place in Asia or America. We want a spread.

'One of the reasons for that is that it creates a great domestic weekend back here. If the cities are right and the kick-off times are right, you can envisage the idea of waking up on a Saturday morning and watching five Premier League matches back-to-back and again on a Sunday.

'That has never happened. We have never had a full fixture calendar in the UK broadcast live. The concept at the moment is five cities where they would play a game on a Saturday and on a Sunday in that host city.

'There will be no club influence in terms of which host city they go to. It will be done by a draw. The current plan is the clubs will take the game they are given.'

One club source said: 'The Premier League is a global game now. Everyone knows how popular it is around the world and this proposal went down so well because every club would be involved, not just a few.

'The Premier League has always worked as a co-operative of 20 clubs and this would increase everyone's income, showcase the league to the rest of the world, and be exciting to those fans in this country who either want to travel to the game or watch it on TV.

'We now need the League to look at the proposal and see how we can take it forward.'

The Football Association reacted positively to the Premier League's move, and senior figures in the organisation were briefed about the proposal before this morning's meeting.

An FA source said: 'We understand the reasons for this proposals and the benefits it can bring to English football as a whole.'

In a later statement The FA tentatively backed the proposal with the caveat that the proposed overseas matches would not impact on Cup or England games.

The FA said in a statement: 'The FA appreciates the Premier League making us aware of this interesting proposal in advance of today's meeting.

'We understand the Premier League's desire to raise interest in English football around the world.

'We look forward to discussing the detail with the League and looking carefully at the implications, to ensure that the proposal fits well alongside the existing fixture list, including our domestic cup and league competitions and our national team games.

'We know that the Premier League are equally conscious of these issues.'

A more sceptical view was aired by a senior UEFA official, who told Reuters: 'This is no longer about football, it seems to be all about money.

FIFA confirmed they had received a proposal from the Premier League late on Thursday.

'We are looking into it and will make our views known once we have looked at all the details,' a FIFA spokesman said. FIFA statutes state: 'The Executive Committee shall be responsible for issuing provisions for organising international matches and competitions between Association teams and between League and/or club teams.

'No such match or competition shall take place without the prior permission of FIFA.'