Hoddle may have to pay the price for his verbal sin

GLENN HODDLE'S future as coach of the England football team could be decided over the next 24 hours amid outrage over his claims that disabled people are being punished for sins in previous lives.

Margaret Hodge, the government minister with responsibility for disabled people, added her voice yesterday to calls for Hoddle's sacking, as the Football Association's acting chairman, Geoff Thompson, prepared to meet Hoddle.

The England team sponsor, Nationwide Building Society, dissociated itself from Hoddle's remarks. Its managing director, Mike Lazenby, said: "As a personality, Mr Hoddle has a responsibility to ensure that any personal views cannot be confused with those of the England team, the FA or its sponsors." He added: "We shall be having talks with the FA."

Ms Hodge joined Tony Banks, the Minister for Sport, in expressing astonishment at Hoddle's comments and said it was "inappropriate" for him to hold the position of England coach. "Those were not remarks off the cuff made once," said Ms Hodge. "He has held similar views and expressed them in the past on the radio. There are probably over six million disabled people in Britain today, and to suggest to them that somehow it is their fault, or somehow they have a lesser contribution to make to society, is very deeply insulting.

"I think that someone in a public position, which Glenn Hoddle is, which brings him many privileges, also brings him responsibilities. I think it is inappropriate that he should hold that place and I think his bosses should look at that seriously."

Hoddle, whose insistence on using the services of a faith healer, Eileen Drewery, has laid him open to ridicule, caused a furore last week when he told a football reporter from The Times in an interview: "You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and a half-decent brain. Some people have not been born like that for a reason.

"The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap. You have to look at things that happened in your life and ask why. It comes around."

The reporter has said he asked Hoddle about this subject because of previous similar statements the English coach had made. Hoddle had responded "enthusiastically and on the record".

Hoddle, however, says that his comments have been misconstrued - a claim that fell on deaf ears when it emerged that he had made similar comments on BBC Radio 5 Live last year. Back then, he said: "I think we make mistakes when we are down here and our spirit has to come back and learn. That's why there is an injustice in the world, why there are certain people born into the world with terrible physical problems."

The FA initially stood by the England coach, but yesterday there were signs that it was distancing itself from him. Officials have grown increasingly exasperated with him since the publication of his World Cup diary - for which he was paid pounds 200,000 - in which he criticised players and described Paul Gascoigne's furious reaction when told he was being dropped from the squad - a disclosure that many people feel was a breach of confidentiality between player and manager.

David Davies, the FA's acting chief executive, who co-wrote Hoddle's book, told Radio 5 Live: "Geoff Thompson has made it clear that he wants to discuss Glenn's comments with him personally. He wants to know the circumstances surrounding the interview."

He said the FA wanted to know why an interview on football turned into a discussion on reincarnation. "What I think ... the FA will rightly want from Glenn are assurances - and Glenn will probably be prepared to give them - as far as the future is concerned about non-football matters."

When asked about Hoddle's future, Mr Davies said: "Getting into that discussion at a time like this is not helpful to anybody, least of all Glenn Hoddle and the FA."

While Hoddle refused to elaborate on an insistence he made on Saturday that his meaning had been "turned completely on its head", reaction to his comments was almost universally negative. Bob Price, chairman of the British Paralympic Association, said Hoddle's beliefs would cause "considerable psychological and emotional hurt" to disabled people. He, too, urged the FA to consider Hoddle's position.

Mr Banks said: "Anyone who actually feels that a disability is somehow being visited on you from your time in another life is, frankly, coming from another world."

David Mellor, chairman of the Football Task Force, said Hoddle's beliefs were akin to "some sort of superstition from the Dark Ages".

Hoddle was born in 1958 in Hayes, west London, into a working-class family. His father was a toolmaker; his mother a housewife. The family talks fondly of him rolling up wool to use as a football as soon as he could walk. In 1974, he signed as an apprentice for Tottenham Hotspur after playing for Harlow and Essex school sides. In an English game that valued graft above artistry, the elegance of Hoddle, his inch- perfect passing, effortless dribbling and curling free-kicks marked him out from his peers and earned him 53 caps.

In 1987 he moved to Monaco, where he helped the French side to a league championship within 12 months. He returned to this country as player- manager at Swindon, encouraging a continental style and winning promotion to the Premiership in 1993. Immediately afterwards, he joined Chelsea as player-manager and, in 1996, was appointed England coach.

At first, his arrival was welcomed. However, his introduction into the camp of a faith healer, his espousal of increasingly weird religious beliefs and his occasionally odd team selections took its toll on his relationship with the media.

Many observers believe that Mrs Drewery has been the biggest influence over Hoddle since, at the age of 18, he was introduced to her after tearing a hamstring. He declined her offer of help, but she promised to heal him in his absence. The next day, the injury was gone and he was hooked.

The rest of his beliefs appear to be a homespun mixture of Eastern traditions and New Age philosophy.

Commenting on the affair yesterday, the former Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, said: "I think that with so much information available about different religions and with people no longer rooted so firmly in a faith, it is quite common for people to have a pick-and-mix situation. I just think it is sad that he has said these things and people have jumped down his throat in this way. We are so quick to jump on people for their beliefs these days."

Karma and reincarnation are ideas central to the main religions of south Asia, but observers believe that Hoddle's views are rather different. Guhya Pati, a broadcaster and writer on Buddhism, said: "There is an awful lot of talk about reincarnation which seems to be little more than pseudo- spiritual superstition.

"Of course there is a tradition of karma in Eastern religions, used initially as a tool to teach the simple fact that all actions have consequences and that people can have enormous responsibility for their lives. But people often talk about it - wrongly - in fatalistic terms. The idea that people would be burdened with a disability because of something they did in a previous life is not an accurate portrayal."

Whatever Hoddle believes, commentators can pinpoint his deteriorating relationship with the fans and the FA to the World Cup, when his initial refusal to play David Beckham and Michael Owen became a source of national frustration.

War of

Words

"Glenn's logic means that I must have been a fairly disastrous football coach in a previous life."

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, who is blind

"What you sow, you have to reap. Let's say that you were in a fight and you broke someone's back, then possibly you would suffer from your actions in your next life."

Eileen Drewery, faith healer and Hoddle's mentor

"If they are true, his remarks are madness. People all over the country are watching loved ones suffer through no fault of their own. How are they expected to feel, reading what Hoddle is saying? Does he feel his comments are helpful?"

Scottish striker Ally McCoist, whose baby is in hospital

"It is disgusting for a man in his position to be talking like this. I take a boy in a wheelchair and a boy with Down's syndrome to matches. What are they going to think?"

Freda Murray, head of the Disabled Supporters' Association

"Thank God that Mother Teresa, Leonard Cheshire and Florence Nightingale, among others, didn't take the Hoddle view." Lord Morris of Manchester, the first minister for the disabled

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