Football: Cavalier act could undermine World Cup bid

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THE LAUNCH by Sir Bobby Charlton and Tony Blair of the Football Association's "Welcome to the World" initiative, whereby four children from each member country of Fifa, the world's governing body, would be flown to England for the 2006 World Cup, was only one development in the rapidly accelerating race to win Fifa's vote.

South African International Olympic Committee member Sam Ramsamy rejected Germany's proposal to withdraw their bid in return for support in 2010; and Fifa president Sepp Blatter said that World Cup 2006 should be held in Africa.

Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt have joined South Africa as the candidates from the next new continent to stage the World Cup after north America in 1994 and Asia in 2002. Germany and Brazil complete the list of applicants from whom Fifa will choose, announcing their decision in March 2000.

Provided there are no setbacks to the plans to rebuild Wembley Stadium, the Football Association will present an excellent case. There are many fine stadiums already and the World Cup campaign also gives a welcome stimulus to proposed developments at Coventry City and Bristol City. There are, of course, many foreign stars currently sampling the unique atmosphere of England's fence-free grounds and bid director Alec McGivan can include some unique tourist attractions in the campaign brochure.

The Germans will undoubtedly bring their customary efficiency to bear. They will say that 2006 would be the first World Cup to be held in the new unified Germany, accessible to fans from Eastern Europe. However, their grounds, particularly in the former eastern sector, still require considerable investment. And Germany suffered a major blow last June when Gerhard Mayer Vorfelder, of Stuttgart, surprisingly lost his executive committee seat to Joseph Mifsud, of Malta, in a vote of all the Uefa national associations.

Brazil, winners for a record four times, will have a strong emotional case to stage the World Cup in 2006, for the last time they were hosts was 1950. However, they too would need to spend an awful lot on their grounds. The Maracana, for example, is a vast bowl sorely in need of improvement.

Little has surfaced about the campaigns of Egypt, Nigeria and Morocco, who lost out to France for 1998. Maybe there will be some internal African football politics, similar to those in Europe between Germany and England, as each seeks to dislodge the likely front runner from their continent, South Africa.

Like Brazil, the country of Nelson Mandela will appeal to many. South Africa successfully staged the rugby World Cup and, like England and Germany, can boast a good infrastructure and excellent media facilities. But it does have a couple of problems. The economy is such that it would be very difficult for many South Africans to be able to afford to go to matches. And the country has a major crime problem.

Undoubtedly, England can compete with any of the other bidders. Our problem, however, may lie in the arcane nature of world football politics. Different factors motivate the 24-man executive committee which makes the decision.

For example, Blatter has two reasons for preferring an African host, if one or more of the African bidders can meet the bidding criteria. First, Fifa wants to stimulate football in all corners of the world and the World Cup has never been held in Africa. Second, last June the the president gained many of the votes in his successful election campaign from a continent which had previously been committed by its leadership to the rival candidate Lennart Johansson, of Uefa. Therefore, he has a big personal stake in the continued development of African football. But if the World Cup returned to Europe he would probably support England rather than Germany.

England should be able to secure the votes of two Scots, David Will and Charles Dempsey, the president of Oceania. The European representatives still maintain that Sir Bert Millichip committed England to backing Germany. He had no reason to oppose his Uefa colleagues before England entered the contest, but there is absolutely no record of where and when such a vital gentleman's agreement was reached.

The South Americans have felt marginalised by recent alliances between Europe and Africa and so could easily vote for England if convinced of the merits of the bid.

All these differing personal feelings - and more - will come into play. The FA's potential invitation to the kids of the world is an eye-catching idea. I only hope their cavalier treatment of the World Youth Championship in Nigeria, to which they sent a "developmental" team which was eliminated without scoring a goal, has not offended too many of the influential figures they are trying so hard to woo.