England bid hopes are raised again


ENGLAND’S BID team raised hopes of a late surge to land the 2018 World Cup as the British prime minister, David Cameron, led a final lobbying push and Russian rivals appeared to be preparing the ground for his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, not to travel.

On a day when Fifa refused to reopen an investigation into bribery allegations involving executive committee members despite the International Olympic Committee doing so, hopes were raised that England could secure enough votes to make it to the final round and a possible showdown against Spain/Portugal.

While the final, frantic few days of lobbying involving Hollywood stars, iconic footballers and heads of state are unlikely to change the first-choice votes of the 22 or 23 Fifa executives who will decide the fate of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, they could affect the crucial second and third preferences of voters.

David Beckham, who visited a school in Zurich and met voters, was part of a coordinated effort designed to reduce the perceived negative impact of Monday’s Panorama allegations against four of the voters.

Three were accused of taking bribes and one, Jack Warner, of ordering World Cup tickets that were destined for touts before the deal fell through.

Beckham acknowledged England were underdogs and likened the late push to the final 72 hours in Singapore in 2005, when he joined a London Olympic delegation that was helped over the line by the then prime minister, Tony Blair.

“The last few days and hours will be very critical. You know a friendly handshake or an important word to some of the members that aren’t decided yet can make a difference,” Beckham said. “The similarities are with the 2012 bid that people are talking about us being the underdogs, maybe not favourites. That was the case in Singapore as well. Everybody expected France and Paris to win it.”

The Russian bid, long-time favourites, said Putin remained firmly behind it but indications he would not travel ahead of tomorrow’s vote will raise questions about his confidence in their chances.

It has long been assumed the Russian prime minister, who has hosted the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, and several committee members in Moscow, would only travel to Zurich if he was fairly certain they would win.

His name was not believed to be on the list of delegates circulated by Fifa, but the possibility remains the Russians are planning for him to make a dramatic late appearance.

Russia’s 2018 chairman, Vitaly Mutko, who is also the country’s sports minister, said Putin would clarify his intentions today.

Meanwhile, Cameron was forced to duck difficult questions about corruption allegations against four members of the Fifa executive committee, including two – Warner and Issa Hayatou – considered key to England’s chances. The bid team believe they distanced themselves from a Fifa backlash about the British media, in the wake of a Sunday Times investigation that resulted in six officials being suspended and the BBC documentary.

“Basically me, David Dein, the prime minister and other members of the team sat down with president Blatter this morning and it was one of the topics that we spoke about and something that was cleared away,” Beckham said.

The strategy has opened them up to criticism, but Cameron yesterday insisted he was concentrating only on winning the vote. “I’ve only got one focus here and that’s trying to bring the World Cup home for England,” he said. “That’s going to be my concern, nothing else.”

Fifa insisted it would not reopen an investigation into allegations that Hayatou, the South American confederation’s president, Nicolas Leoz, and the Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira were among officials who accepted a total of around £64.2 million in bribes from the sports marketing company ISL between 1989 and 1999.

In contrast, the IOC reiterated its “zero tolerance” stance on corruption. It said it would ask the BBC to pass on all relevant evidence and refer the matter to its ethics commission. Hayatou is also an IOC member.

Both Hayatou and Warner indicated the Panorama allegations would not affect their vote.

Guardian Service