Football: All the World Cup bids are on a stage

Tim Collings says tomorrow's deadline heralds a glitzy sideshow
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The Independent Online
TWO OFFICIALS, five national delegations and an unknown number of media representatives from all creeds and countries will descend upon the hillside solitude of Fifa House in the pseudo-rural fringes of Zurich tomorrow for the kind of jamboree that sits uneasily alongside the sport's ideals.

In the old days, the official handover of the documentation supporting five bids to host the 2006 World Cup finals would have gone by registered post. In the hype of the late 1990s, however, only a glamorous spectacle will do. Football? Let's have a drink and a chat first, old boy, and, perhaps a TV show will help. Come on in.

Officially, bribes, gifts and persuasion by dubious means are not permitted in these kind of campaigns. But when it comes to making these presentations over the next two days (England's is tomorrow afternoon), anything within the rules, it seems, will go.

England's bid committee, led by Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst, will be flying in with Michael Owen, 20 children who won a Blue Peter quiz and an army of accompanying reporters. Steeled by detailed preparations and sky-high confidence, the English campaign will also include Tony Banks, as a special envoy; but, like the others, it will be allowed only the bare 30 minutes permitted by Fifa's rules to leave the media swooning.

"It is really an event just for the media to enjoy," explained a Fifa communications division spokesman. "It used to be just a deadline day and a day of the presentation of formalities. Now it is something else. Each country gets 30 minutes and the only Fifa officials taking part are the president and the general secretary."

The 24 members of Fifa's executive committee who will vote next July on the outcome of this high-profile marketing contest will not be present. In effect, the two-day presentations ceremony is nothing more than an advertising festival held in a swirl of media partying with a serious vote-catching message underlying each show. It starts tomorrow afternoon, with a South African singer - Morocco and England follow before tea- time. Brazil, complete with the World Cup-winning captains Carlos Alberto and Dunga, and Germany, led by Franz Beckenbauer, have slots on Tuesday afternoon.

Given all the hype, it is difficult not to wince with cynicism in the wake of the revelations this year surrounding Salt Lake City's and Sydney's bids to host the Olympics. But such showbiz glitz is now a common part of all international sport.

Once the bids are lodged and the fanfares over, it will be down to Fifa's inspection team to authenticate the claims, visit the stadiums and start producing their own influential report. This team will be made up of people from north America, Latin America and Asia, the continents not bidding. In the end it will be the old and established criteria that count the most: solid funding, security and political stability.

Whatever the image portrayed in the next 72 hours, the inspection reports will carry more weight. And, perhaps intriguingly, the inspection team will be selected by the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, who has said he favours an African World Cup finals host and recently tipped Beckenbauer to succeed him as president. Only time will tell how much more effect his views have than those of an entranced media corps in a Swiss theatre.