English Premier League to cooperate with Asia

English Premier League chairman Dave Richards believes that in 10 years time, Asia will be the next 'Premier League'. "I have no qualms about it," he told reporters. "What you have to do is play the kind of football you want to watch," he said. To achieve this, Asian authorities must "start putting up the facilities for the children so that when they watch the David Beckhams and the Rio Ferdinands of the world, they will be able to go out and do it too," he said.

Mr Richards also vowed to help protect Asia from being exploited by money-grabbing clubs. "We'll be talking to clubs when we go back to England," he said in Kuala Lumpur after discussing the issue with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Everton, Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers participated in a Premier League-endorsed 'Asia Trophy' tournament including Thailand in Bangkok in the post-season. However independent tours, such as organised by Manchester United, have been severely criticised by Bin Hammam, who says clubs are only interested in milking Asian fans of their cash without leaving behind any kind of legacy.

"We won't let that happen. We are totally against teams coming to Asia for two days and then returning home," Richards told Reuters. "We may even tell them that we'll pay for their hotels and airfares and ask them not to take any fees. We've been talking to the AFC and it could be that we come up with some sort of code or memorandum of understanding in the near future."

But Richards said the Premier League could not stop big companies paying millions of pounds to bring teams to English football strongholds such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. He noted that local sponsors have been paying top-tier teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea up to one million pounds per visit to a country for exhibition matches.

"What we can't do is stop a sponsor from paying Manchester United five million pounds to go to Asia," he said. "It's a free market and they can do that if they want. But what we will try to do is make sure English teams who do come to Asia will bring with them programmes to take to the community and educate kids in Asia. Football in England is very much involved in fighting crime and drugs through various programmes started by the Premier League, and we hope that we can replicate some of these programmes in Asia."

See also: AFC: Football "must be run by professionals" (18 Sept) and Asian Confed warns big clubs over exploitation (2 Sept) and Premier League to cooperate with AFC on tours (31 July) and Asia disappointed with many touring clubs ( 31 July)and FIFA: money-spinning tours harm Asian leagues (28 July)