Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore believes the influx of European teams heading to Asia for pre-season tours can be beneficial if the clubs involved do it the right way.
There has been plenty of debate about the growing trend of top European clubs coming to this part of the world to conduct their pre-season tours, with some dubbing it little more than a money-spinning exercise.
Across the Causeway, a couple of friendlies between a Malaysian XI and both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool incurred the wrath of a local supporters’ group, which urged fans to boycott the games.
The timing of both matches led to top-flight games in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) being rescheduled to accommodate the English sides.
In Singapore, the biennial Barclays Asia Trophy (BAT), which this year involves Arsenal (pictured above celebrating their FA Cup triumph in May), Everton, Stoke City and a Singapore Select XI, is about to commence over two match days during the Ramadan break.
Speaking to FourFourTwo exclusively from the sidelines of the Premier Skills Community Festival at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday evening, Scudamore was keen to address those concerns and explain why the BAT remains relevant to the local audience.
The Festival marked the conclusion of a packed seven-day schedule where three community football development programmes were held for 110 local coaches and referees, in collaboration with Sports Singapore, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) campaign for child nutrition, One Goal.
“We know that we have a massive fan base here so this is to allow fans of the clubs to get closer to their players,” said the 55-year-old, who has been the Premier League’s chief executive since November 1999.
“The TV experience is great, but there isn’t anything like seeing your teams in the flesh. I don’t see any issue as long as the tournament is run properly; the full and proper squads come (and) they play competitive matches, which is something you will see a lot at the BAT. There’s a right way to doing things and I believe the way we do the tournament has a huge amount of interest.
“So it’s really up to the supporters, isn’t it? I’ll respect that if they don’t wish to engage and only want to watch their local leagues, that’s fine with us. Similarly there’ve been foreign teams wanting to come to England and getting sanctioned to play. We’ve NFL games being played at Wembley, NBA games being played in England – fans turn up and watch them because they are sports fans.
“Ultimately the Premier League is not forcing anyone to watch anything, or to come down to scream and clap, so people can make their own choices.”
To ensure the BAT takes on more significance than just simply four teams playing in a quadrangular tournament, there have been a series of events lined up to benefit the local community.
On top of the Premier Skills’ programme, a Referees’ Workshop was conducted where all registered referees with the FAS had the opportunities to learn from tournament referees Jon Moss and Craig Pawson. There is also a Premier League/AFC Workshop where the best practices in the areas of communications, sales & marketing and community development will be shared.
With all that, Scudamore believes his organisation has ensured that the BAT leaves a sporting legacy for the host nation.
“This shows that we don’t just fly in, play the matches and just leave,” he emphasised.
“We do things like this Community Festival where we’ve been here all week and the coaches have been putting a lot of energy and effort in organising these events. I think it’s all good.”