Football: Blatter clatters into England World Cup bid

AS ENGLAND'S bid to host the 2006 World Cup was officially submitted yesterday, the most powerful man in world football again took the opportunity to throw his weight behind South Africa's effort to secure the tournament.

"If Africa manages, on a communications level, on the level of the terms and conditions, to meet the demands, it should get the World Cup," Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, football's world governing body, said. "Africa has the right to organise the World Cup for all it has given to football," he added. Blatter, who has often argued the case for Africa, said he had explained his support for South Africa to Prime Minister Tony Blair on a visit to London last week.

His stance has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the English FA. England's bid, signed by Keith Wiseman, the FA's chairman, and Graham Kelly, the chief executive, landed on a desk at Fifa's headquarters in Zurich yesterday, seven weeks ahead of the 31 December deadline for countries to officially say they wish to stage the 2006 finals.

Whether the English proposals will ever get beyond the drawing board stage will not only depend on whether South Africa manage to convince Fifa's 24-man voting committee that it is capable of hosting the event. Should South Africa fail to do so, England will still face stiff competition from the Germany.

One eventuality that can certainly be ruled out - should South Africa fail in its bid - is a World Cup co-hosted by England and Germany. Blatter said yesterday that co-hosting was wrong, and added that awarding the 2002 finals to Japan and South Korea had been a mistake. "It's not something to be repeated," he said. "Ask the Belgians and the Dutch [the joint hosts of Euro 2000] if they're happy to organise the next Euro jointly. If they are sincere, they will answer `no'," he said. "It poses problems. Who gets the opening match, who gets the final? On top of that, between Korea and Japan there is a real tradition of antipathy."

Blatter yesterday also expressed his disappointment that France had withdrawn from the Confederations Cup - scheduled to take place in Mexico from 8- 20 January - but said the event may now be moved to encourage their participation.

"When a federation like France, Fifa founders and world champions, make the commitment and then pull out because of internal pressure two months from the competition, I find that disappointing," Blatter said. The French withdrew because European clubs refused to release their French internationals for the event.

The tournament could now start in late July thus allowing the French to field a full-strength side. A final decision will be made later this month, Blatter said. The other countries due to take part are Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Egypt, Brazil, New Zealand and the United States.

Meanwhile yesterday Blatter met with Pele, Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini for discussions on a new panel to address "fundamental issues facing the game."

The four will be members of the Fifa Football Committee, which will be chaired by the Spanish Football Federation president, Angel Maria Villar. It should be formally set up in December and will also include current players, referees, coaches, managers and doctors. It will not discuss the laws of the game but will concentrate on "the future welfare of the game in more general terms."

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