World football chief backs England's bid for 2006

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL'S senior statesman gave his backing to England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup last night after a meeting with Tony Blair in Downing Street.

Joao Havelange, president of FIFA, the game's ruling body, told reporters after the half-hour session that the new Wembley stadium would be vital to the bid.

"We are very aware that England is the cradle of the game, the motherland of football. It was here that the game was created, it was here that the game grew up, it was here that the laws of the game were created," he said.

Speaking through an interpreter, he added that the FIFA executive would make its decision in 2000. "It is my personal wish that on that day it will be decided that the World Cup 2006 will indeed take place in England," he said.

Dr Havelange, who is 82, will retire from his post in June this year but his support for England's bid is still expected to be highly influential.

The sports minister, Tony Banks, was also at the meeting along with Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the Football Association.

Although it was up to FIFA to make its decision, Dr Havelange's support was very welcome, Mr Banks said.

"We must be very, very encouraged by the endorsement that we have received. The discussions were very cordial and were conducted entirely in French, so I don't really know what they decided," he joked. Mr Banks added fans should remember their behaviour during this year's World Cup in France and other matches abroad would influence the decision. "They are ambassadors for the country and they have got to realise they play a crucial part in persuading the world that English football is of the finest quality and that its supporters are amongst the best in the world," he said.

The sports minister added that he hoped people who had not taken England's bid seriously would now change their positions.

So far the main competition to hold the World Cup in 2006 comes from South Africa and from Germany, which made an offer to launch a joint bid with England. Ministers say they felt the offer was an admission that Germany was unlikely to win the bid.

Dr Havelange said that 2006 would be the 40th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup in England, but in 2010 Brazil would have a strong case because it held the tournament in 1950.