Bin Hammam blocks EPL expansion

The AFC boss believes the Asian football needs to protect its own turf.

    AFC President Mohammed Bin hammam, right, has a
    powerful ally in Fifa boss Sepp Blatter [AFP]
    The momentum seems to be slowing behind the English Premier League's bold plan to stage an extra 39th round in five overseas countries starting in the 2010-11 season with Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hammam rejecting the proposal.

    Opposition is now mounting around the globe to the proposal, and even the club owners are now having doubts.

    The plan has been met with strong opposition from supporters groups, while Fifa and the English Football Association, far from supporting it, have asked for details before making any official comment.

    Among the leading candidates to stage the English league games are the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, South Africa and the Middle East.

    The initial idea was to stage two matches in each of five countries over a weekend in the middle of January.

    U.S reluctance

    However, U.S. soccer federation president Sunil Gulati said it would not host a game without Fifa's permission, and bin Hammam went one step further by issuing a statement rejecting the idea.

    "We've been reluctant to have official games played in the U.S.,'' Gulati said.

    "We'll be guided by Fifa on this matter. But if it's not in line with its rules then we won't sanction it.

    "We had a similar proposal 10 years ago when a team playing in Los Angeles wanted to play in the Mexican league. We didn't let that happen and CONCACAF said no.''

    Gulati understands the ambition to globalise what has become the most popular league in the world in terms of TV coverage, but he feels he has a duty to protect the growth of football in his own country.

    "We understand it's a global sport, but it's about nurturing the home game,'' he said.

    "If Fifa said, 'OK, it's up to the relevant FAs,' then we would look at it. We have got a great relationship with the English FA and there's a lot of good reasons to look at it. But there are also some issues that we have got which would cause us to be very hesitant.''

    Asian opposition

    Bin Hammam said he could not support a plan which might be harmful to the domestic leagues in Asia.

    "I always welcome the exchange of knowledge and expertise between foreign football associations and clubs, and support matches organised between AFC and other confederations which benefit the development of our clubs here in Asia,'' he said.

    "But, at the present time, I can't see the wisdom in the proposed plans. My recommendation to the AFC executive committee would be to reject any initiatives of this nature. And we would urge the AFC member associations to protect their own national leagues and clubs within their territories. This is our position.''

    Bin Hammam, whose confederation governs Japan, China and Korea, said he was against it anyway.

    "With relation to the overall principle, it is my belief that it is not a good idea to organise domestic leagues in territories other than their own,'' he said.

    If it were adopted, then Premier League clubs should also be prepared to host games from other countries.

    "If this principle is accepted, then the FA Premier League must accept reciprocal arrangements within their own territory.''

    Dave Whelan: "Sitting on the fence"
    [GALLO/GETTY]
    Whelan concerned

    While opposition appears to be growing from overseas, Wigan chairman Dave Whelan said some of the owners were not wholehearted in support of the proposal, even though the Premier League announced last week it had unanimous support.

    "I am sitting on the fence. I am not condemning it but neither am I condoning it, and I know quite a few chairmen feel the same way,'' he told British newspaper the Daily Express.

    "We want more answers to an awful lot of questions. We want to hear what the Premier League have to say about our questions and we want to look long and hard at the answers when we get them.''

    The games would mean flying the teams several thousand kilometres and then back again over a short spell of days in the middle of an already crowded domestic schedule.

    Whelan said that, although the clubs could expect to collect up to $8.8 million, they would not make a big profit out of it.

    "We have been told that we can expect maybe $9 million. But we all know that money is going to go straight to players, and their agents, demanding ever more the more money clubs make,'' he said.

    "You hear managers say that they don't want another game and you hear them also saying they can do without international games, such as friendlies. So we have to ask ourselves, is it really worth it?''

    SOURCE: Agencies


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