Football: FA defends overseas help

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AS THE Football Association yesterday sought to play down suggestions it had been attempting to "buy" the right to stage the 2006 World Cup, new details emerged about help given to countries who are represented on the 24-man committee which will decide where the tournament will be held.

The FA admitted it was helping to pay the estimated pounds 100,000 salary of the former England international, Peter Withe, now the coach of the Thai national side. Tawatchi Sajakun, the Thai national coach, said: "It is likely that Thailand's FA will vote in support of England because we very much appreciate the Football Association's support in sending one of the best coaches around to help us."

Thailand is represented on the executive committee of Fifa, world football's governing body, by Makudi Worawi, who holds one of the crucial 24 votes. Withe himself, speaking at the Asian Games, where he is preparing the Thai side for today's bronze medal play-off match against China, said: "It's nothing to do with me. I'm a soccer coach. That's what I am... I'm here to do a job, I'm not interested in the politics."

An FA spokesman said: "The FA has had these coaching initiatives, in dozens of countries, for years." He added that such help was not dependent on whether a country can help the English FA in some way. The 2006 campaign director, Alec McGivan, who is currently on bid business in Thailand, conceded, however, that "there has become an increased awareness of the needs of others" since the 2006 campaign started.

The Independent revealed yesterday that the English campaign team had visited both Mali in West Africa and Trinidad - both represented on the 24-man Fifa committee - on the lobbying trail and either given or promised to give extensive assistance to both countries' FAs.

Ismail Bhamjee, of Botswana, who also has a vote, added yesterday that the English FA had given two refereeing workshops in his country in the last eight months and were looking at the possibility of persuading British companies to help build his association a new headquarters.

Earlier this year Glenn Hoddle revealed in his World Cup diary that England's friendly in May against Saudi Arabia was arranged because McGivan was "keen on the Saudis as opponents". Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al-Dabal is on Fifa's executive committee.

McGivan said yesterday: "We are asking people to vote for us. What is more natural than for them to say `Is there any way you can help us.' That's the real world."

Wolfgang Niersbach, a spokesman for the German football federation, which is also preparing a 2006 bid, said he was surprised at the extent of England's 2006 campaign. "Our surprise started the day after Euro 96 finished and the English said they would be making a bid for 2006," he said, adding the German campaign team would attend major international football exhibitions for lobbying purposes but not target individual voters or offer special assistance to nations with Fifa executives.

The English bid was "professional", said Niersbach, but added it should never have come about because it had been agreed in the past that if England staged Euro 96, Germany would have English support for 2006. "The key point above all is the gentleman's agreement between [ex-FA chairman] Bert Millichip and our president, who did so much work for Euro 96."

Meanwhile, Keith Wiseman, the FA chairman, yesterday defended the proposed gifts of pounds 3.2m to the Football Association of Wales that led to the resignation of his chief executive Graham Kelly on Tuesday.

"Bribery is basically where somebody is in the Bahamas with the money," Wiseman said, denying the proposed gifts had been agreed only on the condition that the FAW backed his attempt to become a Fifa vice-president. He added that the FAW had been "prepared to ask their council to support England for that [the Fifa job] if we were able to consider offering them some help in their development programme. We're talking about a development programme for Welsh schoolchildren."

Kelly resigned after a meeting of the FA executive committee, which also passed a unanimous vote of no-confidence in Wiseman, who said yesterday he saw no reason to resign and would fight his case. "I am simply exercising what I think is a perfectly proper and sensible right to have the matter taken back to the [FA] council."