Football: Uefa open door to England World Cup bid

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The Independent Online
England's hopes of staging the World Cup in 2006, seemingly moribund last week, have been revived. Brought face to face with Uefa yesterday, it was Europe's governing body who gave way.

Instead of rigidly pressing only Germany's case, three hours of talks in London with the Football Association brought a more emollient attitude from Uefa and they will listen to presentations from England and any other interested countries before making a decision by December 1998. A meeting will take place in Geneva in April when the selection process will be defined.

"All we have ever wanted is an opportunity to present a reasonable bid," Keith Wiseman, the FA chairman, said. "The FA are happy now that they will have that chance."

Countries will be asked to submit proposals on how best to choose a single Uefa-backed European bid, although that will not stop individual applications to Fifa, the world governing body, who will make the final selection in 1999. Significantly, Graham Kelly, chief executive of the FA, refused to rule out such a course.

"There will be consultations between Uefa, the FA and the German FA as to whether there can be a process put together with a view to achieve just one candidate," he said. "If we are happy with that process then we will subscribe to it. If we are not happy with the ground rules that are laid down, we won't."

That would be Uefa's worst scenario, as they have said that do not want two European nations competing against each other in a similar manner to the competition between Japan and Korea over the rights to stage the 2002 World Cup. A divided Europe, they believe, could play into the hands of South Africa, who are among the favourites.

Uefa denied it, but yesterday's decision marked a climbdown. Last Saturday their general secretary, Gerhard Aigner, faxed a message to the FA saying they were supporting Germany's bid which had been submitted in 1993. Now any interested party is in the melting pot.

In mitigation, Aigner agreed he had been aware of reports stating England's inclination to stage the World Cup, but until the FA formally launched the bid, Uefa had to sanction Germany. "We were waiting to get some official approach that we had to deal with a bid," he said. "We realised we had a bid to deal with when the launch was announced at Downing Street."

The compromise of England and Germany becoming joint hosts, in the same way as South Korea and Japan, was not ruled out, although it appears unlikely.

Aigner, a German, said: "I come from a country where compromises are always sought, but I think it would not be wise to now to opt for co-hostings all of the time. I think it is still the ideal situation to have one organiser capable of coping with such a big event."

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister repeated his call for Britain to be that organiser. John Major, who met FA officials at Downing Street on Monday, said yesterday: "The European tournament last summer was a huge success, not just in terms of football, but a huge success in terms of the organisation.

"This country is the home of football and it is 30 years since we staged the World Cup. I think it is time for Britain to do it again and the football authorities have the Government's full support."

Seven days ago, that endorsement appeared to be supporting a duck made lame by Uefa's backing of Germany. England may not win the right to stage the World Cup, but at least they are in the race.