Premier League chairman Dave Richards accused FIFA and UEFA of stealing the game of soccer from the English and derided his Qatari hosts’ restrictions on selling alcohol, before tumbling into a fountain at an official dinner on Wednesday.
The rants by Richards, who is also a senior Football Association (FA) board member, were quickly denounced by the Premier League and English soccer’s governing body.
Richards was later forced into an embarrassing climbdown, apologizing for “any negativity” toward FIFA and UEFA, while insisting that his comments were “intended to be lighthearted.”
Richards did provoke laugher at the dinner reception as delegates were still digesting his comments. At Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, he slipped and tumbled knee-deep into a museum pool and had to be rescued by Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside, a fellow FA board member.
“We were walking across to our table in a dark courtyard area,” Gartside told the BBC.
“There were three fountain areas nearby, no pool. They had switched off the lights. He thought he was stepping on to flat marble, but his foot went down into the water. He fell over and hurt his leg quite badly,” he said.
During his speech, Richards repeatedly reminded an audience, including FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan, that the world had England to thank for soccer.
“England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game,” Richards said. “For 50 years, we owned 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,” he added.
Prince Ali then reminded Richards that there was still a debate over whether the Chinese or the English invented the sport, but the 68-year-old Richards leapt to the defense of his country.
“It started in Sheffield 150 years ago,” Richards said, his voice rising. “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.”
Prince Ali tried to defuse the tension by saying the game now is owned by everyone, not just one country.
However, Richards’ comments could set back the FA’s attempts to rebuild relations with FIFA after FA chairman David Bernstein tried to block FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s re-election last year.
English soccer’s governing body quickly distanced itself from Richards.
“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,” a statement said. “The FA greatly values its relationships with FIFA and UEFA, which it is working hard to strengthen.”
The Premier League also disassociated itself from its chairman’s comments.
“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 league said in a statement.
Richards later apologized.
“I was expressing my personal views and not those of any organization I represent,” he said in a statement. “My comments on the heritage of the game were intended to be lighthearted.”
“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 organizations in these terms,” he said.