by Richard Brook
For a man that has grown accustomed to landing on his feet, it must have come as a great shock to, Premier League Chairman, Sir Dave Richards when he found himself falling into a hotel fountain pool, in a full suit, at the International Sport Security Conference in Qatar.
The acute embarrassment, of Richards’ impromptu swim, is sure to be dwarfed by that of the Premier League, the FA and the nation following his bizarre comments at the conference.
Richards’ saving grace may prove to be the aforementioned, cat-like quality: He is just one of those people that things seem to work out in favour of. For example, it astonished many of those aware of his history immediately prior to his appointment, that he was given the position of Premier League Chairman.
Up until February 2000, Sir Dave Richards was chairman at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. He left behind a club, that he purports to support, in disarray with his own business also ailing. At the time of his Hillsborough departure – the first rat off a sinking ship – the Owls were staring straight down the barrel of inevitable relegation from the top flight. These on-field woes were only the tip of the Atlantic iceberg, of the Titanic that was the legacy left for Sheffield Wednesday by Richards. An expensive wage bill, poor signings and arguably worse managerial appointments left the South Yorkshire club running at a loss, with debts that then reportedly stood at £16 million payable to the Co-operative Bank. The arrest of this slide stood on a knife edge in December 2010. Wednesday were fortunate to be rescued from the jaws of administration by Milan Mandaric. There is little wonder that Sir Dave Richards’ knighthood, for services to sport, sticks in the throat of Owls fans.
Staggeringly Richards’, with the backing of Chelsea’s erstwhile chairman, Ken Bates, and the ratification of the other Premier League chairmen, was appointed to his present position. The part-time role as Chairman of England’s elite football division was rumoured to initially pay £176,667 per annum and by 2010 was reported to be worth £314,000 a year.
“In our country… we have a culture. We call it, ‘we would like to go for a pint’”.
Richards’ breath-taking rant at the conference is just about as poorly reasoned and badly timed, as one could ever expect from a man used to representing such institutions as the Premier League and the FA, on an international stage. They uphold the stereotype that the English display arrogance, as regards sport, that their performance rarely, if ever, lives up to. More concerning, given the recent race rows relating to Luis Suarez, and more pertinently, recently demoted England captain John Terry, there are undertones of cultural intolerance.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup, to be held in Qatar, stands; a dot on the horizon, yet the squabbling over the minutiae of the arrangements is well underway. Despite widely held religious beliefs Hassan Al Thawadi, general secretary of Qatar 2022 has repeatedly stated that alcohol will be available, for visitors, in special zones during the tournament. Al Thawadi admits he does not see a need for it to be available in stadia, but there has been no confirmation of any stance on this. At the conference Sir Dave Richards said of the matter; “In our country… we have a culture. We call it, ‘we would like to go for a pint’”.
Richards is also quoted as saying “[Drinking] is our culture as much as [Qatar’s] is not drinking… You might be better off saying; ‘Don’t come’, but a World Cup without England, Germany, the Dutch, Danes and Scandinavians. It’s unthinkable”. Such flippancy is unwarranted in the face of such a generous concession, on for us such a trivial, though enjoyable, social norm, yet a matter of religious significance in Qatar. As a figure of some stature in both the Premier League and the FA Richards, should be only too aware of the importance of religious and racial tolerance given recent events.
Richards also had some controversial opinions to express on FIFA and UEFA: “For fifty years, we owned the game. We were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules and designed the pitches. Fifty 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 come along, called UEFA and stole a bit more”.
Both the Premier League and the FA were quick to distance themselves from Richards’ comments
Richards went on to make comments that appeared to blame FIFA for England spending £19 million on a failed World Cup bid. Richards seems to feel that FIFA already knew the regions of the world that they wanted to stage the World Cup and should therefore only have invited bids from those regions.
Both the Premier League and the FA were quick to distance themselves from Richards’ comments, stressing that they are his own and do not reflect those of either organisation.
If we are to talk about anyone stealing football then maybe we should look closer to home. The organisation that Sir Dave Richards is Chairman of, the English Premier League, took football away from the ordinary fan, it vastly accelerated the trend of English football being all about money, television rights, advertising and rocketing ticket prices. Before we knew it players were demanding more money and clubs like Sheffield Wednesday were saddled with unsustainable wage bills. Maybe there lies the motive for defection. Since then English football has been on a slippery financial slope that we’re still to see the conclusion of. Meanwhile honest and loyal fans are watching their clubs teetering on the brink of administration and worse. Such fans must wince upon hearing that the World Cup bid cost £19 million, while they valiantly raise money for their beloved clubs. Who really stole football?
The vultures are already circling for Sir Dave Richards. The word ‘retirement’ has been mentioned on more than one article written on events at the conference. It doesn’t look good for Richards that the two organisations he represents have disowned his views, and if it was anyone else it would seem that his position is completely untenable. With Sir Dave Richards you just never know. Will he land on his feet or was that his ninth life?