Football: World Cup 2006 becomes a political football

Glenn Moore, Football Correspondent, believes that the FA has been naive but that the lobbying has only just begun
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The Independent Online
With an Anglo-Italian World Cup tie in the offing, it is perhaps appropriate that the spirit of Machiavelli appears to have entered the bidding for the 2006 tournament.

The Football Association's discovery, by fax, that Uefa will support German ambitions to host the competition was an unwelcome slap in the face and a reminder that the Germans are as gifted at playing football politics as playing the game itself.

The disclaimer that it was the representatives of Turkey and Norway, not Germany, that raised the issue is a red herring. The horse-trading will have taken place beforehand and the Euro 96 champions may shortly be making lucrative visits to both countries, either that or some related sponsorships will be arranged.

Germany's hand, and Uefa's, was forced by the knowledge that the Prime Minister will host a reception for influential world football figures at Downing Street before the England-Italy game on Wednesday week. Much lobbying is scheduled to take place on behalf of the FA.

Thus the timing of the "hands-off" warning. The choice itself is less surprising. Not only do Germany have many friends in the corridors of power but in Gerhard Aigner (general secretary of Uefa) and Dr Egidius Braun (president of the German federation and vice-president of the Uefa's executive committee) they occupy two of the leading offices. They also declared their candidacy two years ago. The FA had to wait for Euro 96 to be a success before bidding.

The FA's subsequent stunned reaction may thus be slightly naive. However, the FA had signalled a long-term interest when it stepped aside from bidding for 1998 in a deal with France to ensure England received Euro 96.

If Uefa did back Germany, World Cup hosts as recently as 1974, why not remind the FA when it began talking of a bid last June? And why make a final decision 11 years before the tournament and six years before Fifa, the sport's world governing body, decides on the venue?

The FA will hope that the high-handed manner of Uefa's edict will cause a reaction against the choice. Fifa's overt support for Japan led many countries to favour South Korea in the bidding for 2002.

The bitterness of that campaign, and the subsequent fudged compromise, is behind Uefa's move to restrict European bids to one country. Co-hosting is off the agenda, the tortuous nature of the preliminary discussions between Japan and South Korea have seen to that.

Given the size of the tournament -there will be 32 countries in 2002 - only five European nations appear capable of staging it: Germany, England, Spain (recent hosts in 1982), Italy (1990) and France (1998). The problem is if England lose the 2006 vote it will be at least a dozen years until it comes back to Europe - by then the Spanish will be back in contention.

Not that 2006 is even guaranteed to go to Europe. Morocco, Egypt and South Africa are the African contenders while Brazil, supported by Argentina, believe it is time for the competition to return to South America. Meanwhile, the United States and Australia are keeping a watching brief.

Months of frantic lobbying will now take place. At least the process is not as bad as the five-ringed circus of the Olympic bidding junket: just 21 members of Fifa's national executive, including Scotland's David Will, voted on the 2002 decision.

The decision may also depend on the politics surrounding the succession to Joao Havelange as Fifa president in 1998. Lennart Johansson, the Swedish president of Uefa, is the main contender.

Having long posed as a friend of Britain he has, in recent months, sat in on the deliberations that resulted in Scotland having to replay the match with Estonia (in Sweden's group) and been part of this weekend's snub. Maybe there are no votes in being nice to Britain. It is time for an FA charm offensive.