Monday, May 07, 2007

Manchester United tour is "a kind of colonialism"

Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed Bin Hammam launched a stinging attack on English Premier League club Manchester United, calling them "disrespectful" and demanding they cancel their tour of Asia which is planned to go ahead during the AFC Asian Cup in July. "Cancel your tour - this is the message on behalf of the whole Asian football family, all our players, our coaches," bin Hamman said in response to questions on the sidelines of the Asian Football Confederation Congress in Kuala Lumpur. "It is disrespectful. This is not the solidarity we expect from the football family. We expect Manchester United to look for something more than money," he said.

AFC officials are trying to raise the profile of regional and domestic football amid fanaticism for the Premiership in countries including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The Premiership said in January it sold overseas TV rights for 625 million pounds (US$1.25 billion), more than double the previous accord, with the biggest increases coming from Asia and the Middle East.

"We expect Manchester United to look for more than money. Asia is giving them too much money during the season when the Premier League is in season and they are playing in the [UEFA] Champions League. But this one month, every four years, they cannot spare not to play in Asia? We cannot understand it," he said.

"They shouldn't be coming in July. They are welcome in June, they are welcome in August, they are welcome in January or February but not in July. We welcome these visits from the advanced leagues, whether they are clubs or national associations, because they have tremendous experience where we can gain from them, either for our clubs, or our leagues or our players or coaches, administrators or whatever. They have something that we need from them but what we don't need from them is to compete with us in the same market when we thought that we did our part of the game."

Hammam is aggrieved by the fact that the AFC chose not to play the competition in January - one of two windows in the global calendar offered to the AFC by the game's governing body FIFA - so as not to take players away from their clubs during the European season. "We played according to the rules of football," he said. "We did not organise our competition in March, April or February when their league is very busy and there are some players from Asia playing in those leagues. We did not want the players to be taken out of the leagues to participate for the national associations. We can do it actually. The FIFA calendar can allow this to happen if we will insist but we didn't want to do it and we organised our competition in the most inconvenient time for us, weather wise and climate wise. Some countries have typhoons, some countries have heavy rain or high temperature or high humidity, thinking this is the chance for our fans in Asia to focus only on Asian football.

"The fans in Asia are watching Manchester United playing all through the year, from September until May, and the market says that whenever Manchester is playing or Liverpool are playing the television is paying for them. They're not going to pay for Malaysia to play, or Singapore to play for example. If there is only Asian football during this time, the TV and the sponsors will be compulsorily going towards Asian football and the fans will have a real chance to see what we have got in Asia in terms of players, in terms of organisation, in terms of coaches, everything. That will give us and the sponsors and the TV the chance to rethink what is in Asia and we can look for more spectators. But it looks like the people in Manchester and those who have similar thoughts want to fight this idea. This market is going to be protected forever. It's a kind of colonialism."

"We have an agreement with the Football Association of Malaysia supported and guaranteed by the Government of Malaysia and the minimum I'm expecting every party - AFC, FAM and the Government of Malaysia - will respect what we have signed," he said. The AFC and FAM signed an Organising Association Agreement in November, under which the Malaysians were to guarantee the Asian Cup would not be battling for publicity with other football events. Bin Hammam said the terms of the agreement were from 10 days before the Asian Cup to three days afterwards. Bin Hammam said it was out of the question that Malaysia would be stripped of their co-hosts status and would not speculate what punishment could be meted out to the FAM if Manchester United's tour goes ahead.

Bin Hammam said the AFC has the backing of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and that they contacted the Premier League over the matter in September, although not Manchester United themselves.

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