An agreement on a new Pearl River Delta regional soccer league that would include teams from Hong Kong and Macau could be reached in the next few months, the home affairs chief said yesterday. Announcing the proposal, Patrick Ho Chi-ping said the scheme would raise the quality of soccer teams in Hong Kong and boost public interest in the sport. He also said the government would upgrade 21 pitches and build at least nine new football grounds by 2005. 'We hope to introduce more teams from outside Hong Kong to play matches here, and we are discussing it with neighbouring cities in the Pearl River Delta region to see whether we could create a Pearl River Delta regional league,' Dr Ho said. He said he hoped an agreement could be reached 'in the next few months'. He said the government would use more than $100 million to upgrade pitches from natural grass to artificial surfaces, and build nine new pitches. But he denied that the scheme was floated in light of the government proposal to legalise soccer betting, which is expected to be launched later this year. A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Bureau said a summit to be attended by cities in the region, including Guangzhou and Macau, would be held in the next two months to discuss the details. At present, there are nine football teams in Hong Kong's division one, on top of dozens of other teams in divisions two and three. Local teams have long wanted to play in the national league but were barred due to international football regulations. Martin Hong Po-kui, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association, welcomed the proposal. 'We need to build up a strong Hong Kong team first and also get financial backing from sponsors. A Hong Kong team in a league with other Chinese cities would be good but we have to make sure that we are competitive.' Legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, representing the sports sector, said he supported the scheme's direction. But he said the government had to discuss the details with the HKFA before committing itself. 'Integrating more with the mainland would help develop football, but the government should work with the sector on the issue and should first improve facilities,' he said.