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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Oct 9, 2008

AFC chief bin Hammam open to '39th game' idea

Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam has called on the Premier League to ''share the secrets of their success'' as dialogue over the controversial 39th game proposal continues.

Plans to host an overseas 'international' round of matches in five cities across the world from 2011 were originally unveiled in February, but were scrapped after receiving a widespread hostile reception.

However, earlier this week, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore revealed the proposals are ''still there, being discussed and considered with the clubs''.

Indeed, later today, Bin Hammam - also a member of the FIFA executive committee - is set to meet with officials from English football's elite competition as ongoing discussions continue over a way forward.

Earlier this year, Bin Hammam had ordered Manchester United, the English and European champions, to cancel their summer tour because it clashed with the Asian Cup finals and he did not want anything to detract from the regional competition.

However, the 60-year-old - who followed Liverpool as a boy by reading reports in the newspapers - feels if a competitive Premier League game were to take place in the region, it would have to be for the right reasons and not simply done as a money-making or marketing scheme.

''I am going to witness a presentation about what the Premier League can do to help football in Asia and around the world. We should be partners and know what is the benefit for us,'' Bin Hammam said at a media briefing in London this morning.

''I want all the technical assistance they can provide.

''We want them to convey their experiences to us. We want them to share with us their secret of success, to tell us what are the keys that can help our football, by showing us administration, technical level and supporting our coaches.

''One way is if they support our initiatives to develop the game across Asia and close the gap between Asia and European football. This is quite a convincing argument to us.''

Bin Hammam added: ''I know some people will think financial assistance can be part of a deal, but I am not welcoming that.

''Any assistance has to go to providing coaching, workshops and offering their academies to the young people.

''Until now, no Asian referees can take part in European football, even in the third level. By bringing our officials into that environment, these are things which will benefit us.

''There can be financial assistance - but we must teach the people how to fish and survive for life and not just give them the fish.''

The AFC are currently in the process of revamping some 22 leagues across the confederation, with 10 - Australia, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, India, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar - targeted to be made more commercially viable and with higher attendances by 2012, while the AFC Champions League competition is to be expanded to 32 clubs from next year.

Bin Hammam hopes the growing influence of English top-flight football in the region can have a lasting, positive effect - provided it is channelled in the right way.

He said: ''There is too much foreign football on our continent, but I am a big fan of the Premier League and I was really impressed with the way they are developing their thoughts about developing the game in Asia.

''In the past there were no ideas, but now they know people want something left behind and they are up to the mark.

''Whatever plans the Premier League has for its future the AFC is ready to advise and support.''

Bin Hammam, though, feels there are still many hurdles to overcome before the dream of a Premier League game being played within the confederation moves closer to reality.

''The moment some leagues are going to be played outside their territories, it is shocking news. You just want to digest it,'' he said.

''To see the English league played in China or wherever is strange. A lot of people in the confederation like the idea because they haven't thought about it from the same angle as me.

''I am not saying I have changed my mind totally, but they are exploring ideas. They haven't decided anything, they were just discussing things.

''There was a time when they came to us to ask if we would welcome them and we talked the idea out.''

However, Bin Hammam stressed: ''What does worry me and makes me nervous is because the TV channels are willing to pay these huge amounts to show the Premier League and not to broadcast their local leagues.

''That is a worry, not fans attaching themselves to the Premier League.

''But unless our congress gives us the power to prevent such actions [as the 39th game], then I don't think we can do anything.

''I am depending more on the understanding of the Premier League chairman. I want them to see that we are legitimate partners.''

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