Tuesday 23 July 2013
With less than 24 hours to go before the tournament begins, Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore is looking forward to Asian fans of the Barclays Premier League experiencing the "real deal" at the Barclays Asia Trophy.
When Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland kick off the first semi-final at Hong Kong Stadium on Wednesday, it will be 10 years to the day since the first Premier League-sanctioned match took place in Kuala Lumpur. While the competition and the activities have grown with each tournament every two years, one thing has stayed true, says Scudamore: a competitive element that replicates the Premier League experience on a foreign field. It is something that is appreciated by the local fans, especially those of a younger age.
"Young Asian fans think of the Barclays Asia Trophy as their Premier League"
"What has always been the case with these tournaments, and this will be no different, is that the matches look like the real deal," Scudamore told premierleague.com. "What's been noticeable is how the young fans, between 15 and 25, think of the Barclays Asia Trophy as their Premier League. They see these matches as the real deal. The intensity of the matches is matched by the intensity of the fans and that will be fascinating to see again."
This will be the sixth edition of the tournament and the third time it has taken place in Hong Kong. Some of the core objectives for the tournament have stayed the same and the format of the competition too, with four teams taking part in semi-finals and a final and third-place play-off.
"The origins of the Barclays Asia Trophy lie back 14 or so years ago, when we started to sell our international TV rights directly to broadcasters rather than via agencies," Scudamore said. "To do this, we had to create more direct relations with international broadcasters and the natural extension of that was that we needed to engage more directly with our Asian fanbase.
"Therefore, we put this tournament on, the clubs supported it and we have been doing it with ever-increasing success ever since."
Where there has been the most development has been in the activity off the pitch during the Barclays Asia Trophy.
"We did some in 2003 then expanded it in 2005, in Bangkok, when we went to some of the areas badly hit by the tsunami, such as Phuket, where a school had been wiped out with more than 100 children dying," Scudamore said. "We went there with the players, including Gary Speed, who was always a fantastic supporter of all these events and was always the first on the bus for the community.
"Before it was just one day, but now we have activities going on all week, such as coaching sessions for coaches, players and referees, as well as knowledge transfer sessions for people in club administration. We are doing a whole series of workshops with the HKFA this week ranging from elite coaching down through to the grassroots.
"The Barclays Asia Trophy has become a microcosm of what the clubs and the Premier League are doing in England"
"The Barclays Asia Trophy has, in effect, become a microcosm of what the clubs and the Premier League are doing in England. In their communities the clubs have expanded their work, their coaching, while there are the Premier League’s referee development courses that will be repeated in Hong Kong, working with the Hong Kong and Chinese FAs."
This will be third time that Hong Kong has hosted the tournament and, for Scudamore, there are logical reasons why it is returning there.
"Hong Kong has a number of advantages," he said. "Firstly there is the fanbase, which is extremely knowledgeable and have been an enthusiastic crowd in how they come out and support the matches. The second reason is that the Hong Kong FA, Brian Leung, the chairman, and Mark Sutcliffe, the CEO and his predecessors have always been very professional and very good at organising these events as well as supporting all the extra-curricular activities outside the matches.
"Hong Kong is also a great place to go. Logistically, the stadium works, the whole city works. It is a great place to do business. Each club have their own demands with regards to training facilities, because they take this very seriously in terms of their pre-season preparation. The whole thing works in Hong Kong which is why it is an attractive place to keep coming back to."
What makes the tournament a success is akin to the core principles of the Premier League, that of putting on a good show for the fans and Scudamore is expecting that Spurs, Sunderland, Manchester City and South China will not disappoint in their quest to succeed Chelsea as Barclays Asia Trophy champions.
"I am expecting them to take it all very seriously," he said. "This is an important part of their build-up and winning the Barclays Asia Trophy gives teams bragging rights. Lifting the trophy will give them something to start their season off on a positive note."