Richards calls Fifa 'thieves of football'


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The Independent Online

One of English football's best known administrators will face pressure to resign this morning after making the extraordinary claim that Fifa and Uefa "stole" the game that England "owned and brought to the rest of the world".

In a bizarre and rambling outburst, Sir Dave Richards, who is chairman of the Premier League and a member of the Football Association's board, also told delegates at a conference in Qatar that drinking alcohol was an essential part of British culture.

Richards' day then descended into farce when he stumbled into a water feature at a post-conference reception and had to be helped out by Phil Gartside, the Bolton chairman and another FA board member. Richards later apologised if his "light-hearted" remarks caused any offence.

The 69-year-old was at a sports conference in the Arab state. He had a public exchange of views with Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan, a Fifa vice-president, over whether the game first emerged from England or China, and then attacked the organisers of the Qatar World Cup over plans to bar the sale of alcohol. Richards accused the conservative Gulf nation of "starting to bury your head in the sand" over the issue.

Richards said: "England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game. We were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules, designed the pitches and everything else. 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."

After Hussein interjected to suggest some people hold to the idea the sport has its origins in China, Richards replied: "It started in Sheffield 150 years ago. We started the game and wrote the rules and took it to the world. The Chinese may say they own it but the British own it and we gave it to the rest of the world."

The former chairman of Sheffield Wednesday, who played a significant part in England's failed 2018 World Cup bid, is no stranger to controversy – in the past he has been accused of bullying his fellow FA board members – but this outburst could not have been worse timed for the FA, which is trying to improve relations with Fifa and Uefa.

The Premier League last night disassociated itself from his remarks – given, it said, "in a private and personal capacity". Richards is due to retire next year when he turns 70.