Richards brands Fifa 'thieves of football'

Premier League chairman under pressure to resign after bizarre rant in Qatar

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.

The 69-year-old was attending a sports and security 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 sport 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 yesterday's outburst could not have been worse timed for the FA, which is trying to improve its relations with Fifa and Uefa.

It is also highly embarrassing for the Premier League, who last night disassociated themselves from Richards' remarks. "Sir Dave is attending the conference in a private and personal capacity. His comments in no way reflect the views of the Premier League," said a Premier League statement. Richards has been the league's chairman since 1999 but will come under pressure to stand aside. He is due to retire next year when he turns 70. He was billed at the conference as chairman of the Premier League. The Middle East has become a key market for the league.

Richards turned his ire on the Qatari organisers of the 2022 World Cup, claiming they were failing to understand this country's "culture" of drinking alcohol in considering banning the sale of alcohol from stadiums. In Qatar the sale of alcohol is largely restricted to five-star hotels. Richards is staying in a "dry" hotel.

He said: "In our country and in Germany, we have a culture. We call it 'we would like to go for a pint of beer'. It is our culture as much as your culture 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."

Under the chairmanship of David Bernstein, the FA has been quietly rebuilding relations with Fifa and seeking to improve its standing within Uefa. The disastrous 2018 bid ended in abject failure in 2010 and the backlash in this country fed into an overseas perception of English arrogance surrounding their place in the game. Bernstein's opposition to Sepp Blatter's unopposed re-election as Fifa president last year may have been the right stance but it also further distanced England from the governing body.

Since then Bernstein and Alex Horne, the FA's general secretary, have repaired some of the damage, particularly with Uefa. Ten days ago Bernstein and Blatter had an informal two-hour meeting.

Outspoken: Sir Dave's past controversies

"I was present at that meeting with Mr Jack Warner when he stated that as England had led the world in education that the FA should start a worldwide education programme, building blocks around the world - and should start in Trinidad & Tobago. What I said is not repeat-able... Yes, it was an unsavoury word." - Speaking in May 2011 on proposals made by Warner, who has a chequered relationship with the FA, during England's campaign to host the 2018 World Cup

 

"Bully the 12 people on the FA board? Absolutely not. What a futile accusation. I am not a bully, [and neither] I, nor the Premier League, blocked any change at the FA. For good or bad, I speak my mind, and being a Yorkshireman I might not be as eloquent at speaking as some, but I say it as I see it." - February 2011, defending claims he bullied the FA into blocking reforms

 

"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." - November 2009

 

"Does the Premier League hurt the national side? The answer has to be yes. We've been lazy in the Premier League over the years. We created a system of academies and every club spends about £3m a year developing young players. But it hasn't worked, because the availability for us to go out and buy the best stars is easy. Steve [McClaren, former England manager] will tell you that he has to have the best players available and the Premier League has hurt him." - May 2008

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