Premier League chairman apologizes for FIFA rant
DOHA, Qatar (AP) - The chairman of the Premier League 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 Wednesday.
The rants by Dave Richards, who is also a senior Football Association board member, were quickly denounced by the Premier League and English soccer's governing body.
Richards was later forced into an embarrassing apology for "any negativity'' toward FIFA and UEFA while insisting his comments were "intended to be lighthearted.''
Richards did provoke laughter 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 helped by Bolton 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.''
During his speech, Richards repeatedly reminded an audience which included 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.''
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 is owned by everyone, not just one country.
But Richards' comments could set back the FA's attempts to rebuild relations with FIFA after chairman David Bernstein tried to block 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.''
Richards had attended the conference about new frontiers in sports to share his Premier League experience.
But he also questioned the lack of availability of alcohol in Qatar, which won the bid for the 2022 World Cup after arguing it was time for soccer to move beyond traditional markets.
Alcohol is only sold in some five-star hotels in Qatar, and Richards noted that the English and Germans "like to go for a pint and that pint is a pint of beer.''
"It is our culture as much as your culture is not drinking,'' he said, warning Qatar not to "bury your head in the sand'' on the issue because it could turn fans off from attending the World Cup.
He also questioned how fans would cope during the summer heat, which can far exceed 104 degrees in July once they leave the air-conditioned stadiums.
"You have to consider the fans and how you disperse them and how you look after them because it is in June,'' Richards said. "I've been here then. It is a wonderful place to be but you can't lay on the beach for 10 minutes because you will scorch.''
Richards, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 in recognition of his services to soccer, has long been a divisive figure in the game.
He assumed the chairmanship of the world's richest domestic league in 1999 after a decade at Sheffield Wednesday, but was accused of bullying tactics in his role as an FA board member by its former chairman David Triesman.
Richards also rocked England's ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2018 World Cup when he suddenly quit the board a year before the vote.
Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcasey1
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris reported from London.