Brown steps in to save bid for World Cup

PM meets controversial vice-president of Fifa as hopes of success fade
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Gordon Brown met Fifa's controversial vice-president, Jack Warner, yesterday to plead for his votes in favour of England's troubled football World Cup bid.

Mr Warner – who controls up to five of the 24 votes that will decide the 2018 World Cup venue – has been a vocal critic of England's bid, dismissing its leadership as "lightweight" and returning a Mulberry handbag given by the team, calling it a "symbol of derision, betrayal and embarrassment".

Mr Brown appears to have pleaded for Mr Warner's votes at the meeting, on the margins of the Commonwealth heads of government summit in Trinidad. The Prime Minister's spokesman described how Mr Brown would do "whatever is necessary" to help the bid, to which he is personally committed.

Downing Street failed to express confidence in Lord Triesman, chairman of the FA and the man responsible for leading the bid, after weeks of turbulence. Mr Brown has privately criticised Lord Triesman in the past.

The meeting comes after a turbulent couple of months for England's 2018 bid team, a period of turmoil, incidentally, kick-started by Mr Warner. Attending the Leaders in Football conference in London early last month, he said he was "shocked" that one England's rival bidders, Australia, had been allowed to hand out complimentary plastic bags at the event. "I wouldn't have allowed it," he said at the time. "Why isn't there a bag for England? My colleagues are saying that these guys [England's bid team] are lightweight."

At the same time the England bid was being rocked by internal power struggles, some between politicians and others on the bid board, and some based on historical hostility between the Football Association and the Premier League.

Lord Triesman criticised the League's debts last year, something that rankled with Sir Dave Richards, the League's chairman and a 2018 board member. It was thought they would still find a way to work together, but Sir Dave resigned on Wednesday this week amid continued infighting.

This is unlikely to matter to the 24 members of Fifa's executive committee (ExCo), whose votes in December next year will decide where the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be staged. England's rivals for 2018 are Russia, Portugal and Spain jointly, a Benelux country, the USA, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.

An England bid team that is still squabbling deep into next year would be a serious problem. But for now, many of the 24 ExCo members scattered around the globe could not care less about parochial English bitching, if indeed they have noticed.

As The Independent reported last week, after canvassing ExCo members on three continents, the crucial vote will be decided on political considerations and each bid's technical merits.

Strategic voting within and between allied blocs around the world will be crucial, and it is understood England is well placed within the influential European bloc, and hopeful of key votes in Africa. Mr Warner also effectively controls three vital votes in his region. Any deal with him would certainly help England's cause.

Jack Warner: Power-broker with a past

Jack Warner, 66, a former school teacher from Trinidad, is among the most powerful and controversial figures in world football. He is a vice-president of Fifa, world football's governing body, and the president of Concacaf, the Fifa regional body that covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Mr Warner is also one of the 24 members of Fifa's Executive Committee (ExCo) who will vote in December next year on which country will stage the 2018 tournament. As the head of Concacaf, which has three ExCo votes, he can influence where they will be cast.

In 2006, Mr Warner got into trouble when a family travel business made an estimated $1m from touting World Cup tickets acquired through his office. Even Fifa's own ethics committee rebuked him, but being a close ally of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, he survived. Among his other legal scrapes, Mr Warner was sued by his own Trinidad and Tobago players for unpaid bonuses relating to their appearance in the 2006 World Cup.

Mr Warner's power base makes him a useful ally but he is temperamental. England courted him last year by playing a friendly in his country, but he recently turned against England's 2018 bid, calling it "lightweight" and returning a £230 designer handbag given to his wife by bid leaders.