All those foreign suspicions about English football arrogance were proved fully justified in Doha, Qatar, when Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards took a tumble in more ways than one.
First Richards launched an extraordinary attack on FIFA and UEFA then he lost his footing and slipped into an ornamental pool on his way to dinner (see footage below).
Later Richards sought to apologise and clarify his remarks, claiming they had been “light-hearted” and had been misinterpreted but he was shutting the stable door long after the horse had bolted.
His remarks can only set back the Football Association’s attempt to mend bridges on the international scene after chairman David Bernstein’s ill-judged foray at FIFA Congress last year – and in the face of a possible attempt to scrap the historic British vice-presidency of FIFA as well as British power within the law-making International Board.
Richards, attending an International Centre for Sport Security conference, said that the English had given the world the game of football only to have it “stolen” from them.
He added: “For 50 years, we owned the game, we were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules and designed the pitches. Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said: ‘You’re liars,’ and they actually stole it. It was called FIFA. Fifty years later, another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more.”
Richards, an FA board member, was clearly still smarting over events during the scandal-battered 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process.
He accused FIFA of responsibility for the FA having wasted millions of pounds unnecessarily in bidding for 2018 – FA accounts last year costed the bid at £21m – because FIFA had always wanted to take the World Cup to new territories.
He said: “Why couldn’t FIFA have said: ‘We want to take it to the Gulf, to the eastern bloc’? We spent £19million [sic] on that bid. When we went for it everybody believed we had a chance. But as we went through it a pattern emerged that suggested maybe we didn’t.”
Later Richards apologised if he had given any unintention offence and indicated he would be writing in those terms to FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini.
He said in a statement: “Further to the comments I made earlier today at a conference in Doha I would like to apologise for any offence caused. It is important to clarify that I was expressing my personal views and not those of any organisation I represent.
“My comments on the heritage of the game were intended to be light-hearted. They clearly have not come across in that way and I sincerely regret making them and any resulting negativity that may have been interpreted towards FIFA and UEFA. I will be writing to both organisations in these terms.”
Even before Richards issued his statement the Premier League had got there first, saying: “Sir Dave is attending the conference in a private and personal capacity and his comments in no way reflect the views of the Premier League.”
The FA echoed that, saying: “Sir Dave Richards is not representing the FA at this conference and his personal views are in no way shared or endorsed by the FA. The FA greatly values its relationships with FIFA and UEFA, which it is working hard to strengthen.”
Richards was also outspoken about a need for the Qatari authorities, when the Gulf state hosts the World Cup finals in 2022, to make the sale of beer freely available or risk a boycott by fans. The 2022 Supreme Council had always made it clear that alcohol sales to foreign fans would be permitted in the Muslim country.
He said: “In our country and in Germany, we have a culture. We call it: ‘We would like to go for a pint’, and that pint is a pint of beer. It is our culture as much as your culture [in Qatar] is not drinking. There has to be a happy medium.
“If you don’t do something about it, you are starting to bury your head in the sand a little bit because it needs addressing. You might be better off saying: ‘Don’t come.’ But a World Cup without England, Germany, the Dutch, Danes and Scandinavians? It’s unthinkable.”
The problematic issue of heat for travelling fans in a country where summer temperatures can reach 50degrees was another concern for Richards.
He said “It is a fantastic place but is obviously extremely hot. Knowing Qatar, they will be able to build all these air-conditioned stadiums that mean the players can play in cool temperatures. But they have to understand that fans will come in their thousands and that there must be provision for them.
“The heat is a difficulty. I mean, you can’t exactly go and sit on the beach for 10 minutes. You would roast.”
Richards’s day went from bad to worse with his dinner accident as he walked to a VIP dinner at the Museum of Islamic Art. He missed his footing and slipped into an ornamental pool, injuring a leg. He returned to his hotel on being given the all-clear after a hospital check-up.
By Keir Radnedge