Football: Charlton in appeal for bid backing

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The Independent Online
SIR BOBBY CHARLTON yesterday called upon Europe to back England's bid to host the World Cup finals in 2006 or risk losing the chance of staging the event for many years to come.

Charlton, who helped England win the tournament in England in 1966, was invited to address the European parliament yesterday and said: "More and more countries want to stage the World Cup and if Europe does not get the 2006 finals, as Europeans, we can expect even tougher competition in 2010 and 2014. That is why it is crucial for Europe to secure the tournament in 2006 and to do that Europe must get behind the strongest bid.

"That should be the bid which can draw support from all around the world. I believe, without question, that bid is England's," added Charlton, a senior bid official. Germany is the other European country bidding for the finals.

There is exactly one year to go before the executive committee of Fifa, football's world governing body, decide the host venue for the 2006 finals. Charlton told MEPs that even Franz Beckenbauer, leader of the German bid, believes England are ahead in the race.

"As you all know, my old friend and rival on the football field, Franz Beckenbauer, is leading Germany's bid," he said: "In many of the close encounters between our two countries over the years it has sometimes been difficult to keep the score.

"I think perhaps Franz might have overlooked the fact Germany last staged the World Cup eight years after England. If it's Europe's turn in 2006, then it must be England's turn."

A crucial aspect of England's bid is a rebuilt Wembley Stadium which would host the final in 2006, as it did in 1966.

The rebuilding will go ahead in time to form part of the bid only if the owners of the stadium approve its sale to the English National Stadium Trust at a shareholders' meeting today. The trust is a joint venture between the English Football Association and the Sports Council.

The World Cup 2006 campaign have urged the Wembley plc board to end any speculation over the future of the national stadium when they convene to vote on the FA-backed bid.

There are fears that unless the FA buy the stadium, England's hopes of hosting the tournament would be ruined.

However, campaign director Alec McGivan remains confident that the Wembley shareholders will accept the FA buy-out. "We are obviously hoping that the deal goes through tomorrow. It will be enormously helpful for the uncertainty to end," McGivan said. "The new Wembley will be the finest stadium in the world and a key element in our bid to bring the World Cup to England in 2006."

Fifa's executive committee meets in Zurich today in a bid to find a solution that would end an Asian threat to boycott the finals of the 2002 World Cup. The 24-man committee have been given until tomorrow to find an extra place for an Asian team in the next World Cup.

The Asian Football Confederation delivered their ultimatum last December after Fifa announced that there would be only four Asian teams in the finals to be hosted by South Korea and Japan.

In February, a six-man AFC delegation that included the Fifa vice-president, Chung Mong-Joon of South Korea, met with the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, to push their case.

The AFC general secretary, Peter Velappan, said: "We have a very reasonable request. All we are asking for is half a place. Now it is up to Fifa to do a deal."

Fifa's planned refereeing revolution that it would conduct trials involving two referees officiating every match in "top leagues" next season was greeted with some enthusiasm yesterday.

The International Board, football's law-making body, approved the idea of a two-referee experiment when it met in Cardiff last month but the move was expected to be tried in just one league.

Among those to welcome the move were clubs in France. "This is something I've wanted for 10 years," the Marseilles coach, Rolland Courbis, said. "The introduction of a second referee can only contribute to reducing the number of mistakes.

"That Fifa is concerned with improving the system is already a small step forward."

But not every nation was quite so keen on the idea. The FA was reluctant to comment on the proposals. The Belgian football union chairman, Michel D'Hooghe, said that he had reservations and was more interested in developing technology to help referees.

The German football federation's spokesman, Wolfgang Niersbach, distanced himself from Ribbeck's glowing praise for the idea and said: "Our position is to wait and see what Fifa will decide. We, alone, have nothing to say about this and cannot decide anything."