The FA’s top comedian has given us a laugh but why did no one raise the alcohol issue before the 2022 World Cup vote?
The last time the Football Association was making a colossal fool of itself in public, chasing off to Portugal to be cold-shouldered by Luiz Felipe Scolari then coming back home and trying to pretend Steve McClaren had been No1 choice all along, the men at the top were characterised in these pages as resembling the cast of Dad’s Army.
Brian Barwick was the bumptious, bumbling Captain Mainwaring, and if memory serves Sir Dave Richards got the Corporal Jones part, the ever-eager local butcher whose enthusiasm for the fighting band was undimmed by any awareness that he reached and passed his peak about three wars previously. The slightly doctored cast photograph that accompanied the article made such a good fit it attracted several comments, and everyone was feeling quite pleased with themselves until we heard that at least one member of the FA was trying to get hold of a copy to frame.
One had the feeling then that this was an organisation beyond satire, and the news from Qatar, where Sir Dave seems to have fallen into a water feature after bemoaning the difficulty of obtaining a drink in the country that will host the 2022 World Cup, proves beyond doubt that England can still send comedians around the world even if our footballers are no longer cutting it at the highest level.
Don’t bother with the small print or the attempts at damage limitation from the Premier League and the FA. They say Richards was on private business in Qatar and not representing either body, but in that case what was he doing going round lecturing people on England’s football legacy? Of course Richards represents the FA. It is what he does. He mostly represents the Premier League, and not many people can understand how or why he came to marry those two roles, but he did, and he does, and that is what he is known for.
He can never be off duty, most certainly not when accusing Fifa of stealing the game then having to be fished out of the drink by Phil Gartside, and quite frankly it is ridiculous for the Premier League to attempt to distance itself from its chairman in this way, just as it is silly for the FA to pretend that Richards is not a vice-chairman and leading mover and shaker. The two bodies should just be laughing along with everyone else. Richards’s biggest gaffe previous to this was removing the escape clause in Fabio Capello’s contract just before the Italian supervised England’s worst ever World Cup. At least this was funny – the detail about the brilliantly lit orator falling into the water while on his way out to dinner gives the story an almost Woosteresque perfection.
In all seriousness, Richards has gone up in my estimation, because if he was trying to suggest that Qatar is not an ideal venue for a World Cup he could hardly have expressed himself any better. He has publicised the fact that alcohol is only available in five-star hotels, although that is not quite the whole story. Plenty of five-star hotels in Qatar do not serve alcohol. It is not just a question of having enough money to buy a drink, you still have to find the right establishment. I stayed in a quite splendid five-star hotel in Doha a couple of years ago that didn’t even have a bar. It had just about every other feature that could possibly be required of a purpose-built luxury hotel no more than two or three years old, but as you couldn’t get hold of so much as a bottle of beer anywhere in the entire place – not in the lounge, not in the lobby, not even on room service – someone had quite understandably decided that building a bar would be a redundant gesture.
That is what Qatar is like, and I don’t blame Richards for bringing this quite shocking state of affairs to the world’s attention. More than that, I warmed to the way he went about his task, and I think he deserves more support from his friends in high places than he is getting. Just like Corporal Jones, though, his timing is all wrong. We could all have done with a stunt like this before the votes were cast for the 2022 World Cup venue. Making the point over a year afterwards is still very funny, but sadly it’s too late to change anything.
from Paul Wilson