Sir Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League, resigned yesterday from the board of England's 2018 World Cup bid in a shock move that heaps fresh embarrassment onto the project but is unlikely to do much material damage.
Richards tendered his resignation in a letter to Lord Triesman, the chairman of the bid, but said he would continue to support the bid and work on its behalf, just not from a board position. Well-informed sources say Richards' decision came because of a clash of personalities with Triesman, but insist that Richards is genuine in his desire to help the bid succeed.
The development is embarrassing for Triesman because it comes less than a fortnight after a streamlining of the board that was meant to bring internal squabbling to an end. The infighting was partly based on the historic power struggles and conflict between the Football Association (which Triesman heads) and the Premier League.
Damage to the bid is likely to be minor. The host nation for 2018 World Cup will be voted for in December next year by the 24 members of Fifa's executive committee (ExCo). Even those ExCo members who are paying attention to the parochial squabbles in England (most are not), believe it largely irrelevant, as The Independent reported on Friday after this newspaper canvassed ExCo members across three continents.
As The Independent also revealed, the English bid is well-placed to receive support from key ExCo figures in a highly strategic voting process. Civil war on the 2018 board is an annoyance, but Richards remains committed to bid work in private and in public.
"My positions as Premier League chairman, FA board member and chairman of the FA's international committee provide me with ample opportunities to bang the drum for English football, and the bid particularly, right across the world, which I will continue to do wherever and whenever I can," he said.
"My belief is that England has all the right attributes to host a successful Fifa World Cup, our challenge now is to convince the 24 members of Fifa's ExCo of that. This must be our focus and priority going forward."
Rumours circulated yesterday that Manchester United's chief executive, David Gill, who stepped down from the streamlined 2018 bid board onto an advisory panel, was considering opting out of all 2018 duties. "Utter nonsense," said a source, pointing to the fact that Gill was in Kuala Lumpur yesterday on bid business and will continue to use his influence, in Asia in particular, to win the support of ExCo members. "English football now gets tremendous coverage, positive and negative," he said. "Being at the top, you expect some criticism. You must deal with it, not get upset by it."
Eight bid groups want the 2018 event – England, Russia, Portugal-Spain jointly, Netherlands-Holland jointly, the USA, Australia, Japan and Indonesia – while those countries plus Qatar and South Korea are also bidding for 2022.