LONDON (Reuters) - English soccer’s Premier League put a fraction of its riches into a scheme to support youth sport on Tuesday, seeking to underline a commitment to local communities its clubs are accused of taking for granted.
Flush with cash from a 5 billion pound television windfall, English clubs face pressure to cut ticket prices and familiar questions about their failure to produce gifted young players for the national team.
But Chief Executive Richard Scudamore defended the 20-club League against accusations it was not doing enough to support teams lower down the soccer pyramid and grassroots sport.
As part of efforts to stay in touch with local communities, the Premier League has teamed up with government-backed Sport England in a 17 million pound scheme to encourage young people to take up a variety of sports.
Scudamore bridled at suggestions that such funding was small change for the Premier League where players can earn up to 200,000 pounds a week.
“There is no other company in this country that gives away more than we give away,” he told reporters at a London school.
“We will give away next year more than 260 million pounds. We will give away 50 million just in raw charitable causes,” he added, surrounded by teenagers showing off their soccer, table tennis and basketball skills.
The larger figure includes money distributed to other parts of the professional game, including “parachute payments” to clubs to cushion the financial impact of relegation.
The Premier League is one of Britain’s most successful exports, with overseas TV rights for the next three seasons worth an estimated 2 billion pounds and top clubs like champions Manchester United able to sign sponsorship deals in dozens of foreign markets.
United and title rivals Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are about to embark on long-haul overseas tours to tune up for the new season and help build their international following.
Back home, some fans argue that the TV windfall should be used to subsidise cheaper tickets to prevent less affluent fans being priced out of going to matches.
Scudamore said it was up to clubs to set their own prices but added they should maintain strong local ties to complement their global ambitions.
“It means making sure that the local people that live and breathe and work around the clubs are able to go and watch those teams, not every week perhaps, but certainly on an occasional basis,” he said.
England has the most lucrative league in the world, but has only won a major international competition once - the World Cup on home soil in 1966.
The Premier League attracts many of the world’s top players but critics argue that homegrown youngsters are getting crowded out.
Scudamore said a 320 million pound investment to improve academies for young players was starting to pay dividends.
“There were 210 players qualified to play for England playing in the Premier League last year,” Scudamore said.
“We ought to be able to find 11 to take the field to do well,” he added.
Editing by David Cowell