PREMIER LEAGUE CHAIRMAN Dave Richards accused FIFA and UEFA of stealing soccer from the English during a conference Wednesday on sports and security.
With FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan and International Cricket Council Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat looking on, Richards repeatedly reminded his audience 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,” said Richards, who is also a Football Association board member. “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.”
Hussein then reminded Richards that there was still a debate over whether the Chinese or the English invented the game, but Richards leapt to the defence 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 the world. The Chinese may say they own it but the British own it and we gave it to the rest of the world.”
Hussein tried to diffuse the tension by saying the game now is owned by everyone, not just one country.
“The point I’m trying to make is the whole world loves the sport and it is the most popular sport,” Hussein said. “We have to continue to work on developing it and obviously competing and helping our youth.”
Richards attended the conference to share his Premier League experience with others at a round-table on new frontiers in sports. After the conference, Richards slipped and tumbled knee-deep into a museum fountain. He was rescued by Phil Gartside, the Bolton chairman and 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.”
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 his remarks.
“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 disassociated itself from its chairman’s comments, saying in a statement to The Association Press that, “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.”
Richards’ comments are not likely to go down well with Qatar, which won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup by suggesting it was time for the sport to move beyond traditional markets in Europe to new areas like the Middle East.
At a press conference later Wednesday, he raised concerns about cultural differences and the availability of alcohol in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. The nation only allows it in some five-star hotels.
Richards was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 in recognition of his services to soccer, having assumed the chairmanship of the world’s richest league in 1999 after a decade at Sheffield Wednesday.
But Richards has been a divisive figure in English soccer.
He was accused of bullying tactics in his role as an FA board member by its former chairman David Triesman last year.
Richards had rocked England’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2018 World Cup when he suddenly quit the board a year before the vote. He will have to leave his job as Premier League chairman at the end of next season when he is 70.