David Beckham last night claimed that he and Prime Minister David Cameron had put England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup back on a good footing with the Fifa hierarchy as England attempted to prise crucial votes away from Russia ahead of tomorrow's decision.
Beckham denied that the BBC Panorama documentary alleging ticket fraud by Jack Warner, whose endorsement is key to England's success, and corruption among three further Fifa executive committee (ExCo) members would have a negative effect on the bid.
Beckham said: "Basically me, David Dein [the 2018 bid's international president], the Prime Minister and other members of the team sat down with [Fifa] president [Sepp] Blatter and it was one of the topics that we spoke about and something that was cleared away. What we made clear to him and what he already knows is that if we get the World Cup in 2018 our media are right behind us, our media are so positive towards the sport and towards it growing in our country. It is something that could be so big in our country. I think that president Blatter is well aware of the support that we will have for Fifa and the World Cup.
"He brought it up within the talks and obviously it was not the easiest of things to talk about. He realised that a lot of it was old stuff. A lot of things go on and it is out of our hands."
Beckham, Cameron and Prince William all arrived here yesterday to give England's bid a boost in the final 48 hours of lobbying. A source in the 2018 camp said last night: "We are still in the fight and that is all we can ask for."
Cameron had a 30-minute private talk with Warner, who controls all three votes from the Concacaf region (North and Central America and the Caribbean), in a bid to smooth relations. Warner said: "I was pleased with the talks. They were very constructive. Mr Cameron is a knowledgeable man. He knows about football, but not only that he knows about the bidding process as well. I certainly trust his knowledge of football."
In contrast, the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose country are still the bookmakers' favourites to win the 2018 vote, has still not arrived in Switzerland. However, four years ago he made a late, unannounced arrival for the International Olympic Committee vote on the 2014 Winter Olympics which was won by the Russian city of Sochi. Privately, England's 2018 bid is not ruling out Putin arriving today. It was announced yesterday he had cancelled plans to come to Zurich to attend talks on public health issues in Kaliningrad, which is the nearest Russian city to Switzerland.
Earlier yesterday there were suggestions from Russia's 2018 bid chairman Vitali Mutko that they had become frustrated by collusion between Spain and Qatar across the 2018 and 2022 races which will both be decided tomorrow. Should Russia's support crumble, precious ExCo votes will become available, such as the Cyprus representative Marios Lefkaritis and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer.
Talking about the Spain-Portugal campaign, Mutko said: "It does not seem right that some candidates will do what is required, travel to every confederation as invited, but other countries make no effort to promote their bid and suddenly become favourites. That is a situation that is not just."
After the trepidation with which the English bid team approached Monday night's Panorama documentary, there was a renewed sense of optimism about the campaign yesterday. Beckham visited a Zurich school while Prince William gave a TV interview revealing that he and his fiancée Kate Middleton had watched Barcelona's 5-0 win over Real Madrid on Monday night.
Cameron met as many of the 22 ExCo members as possible before returning for Prime Minister's Questions today. He will then return to Zurich when he could be part of the five people giving the English bid's final presentation to the ExCo at 11am tomorrow.
Yesterday, Cameron refused to address the issues raised by Panorama. He said: "I've only got one focus here and that's trying to bring the World Cup home for England. That's going to be my focus, talking to the decision-makers and pressing them on the brilliance of English football and what we can bring for this bid. That's going to be my concern, nothing else."
Another vote that might be within England's reach if Russia are eliminated before them is that of Cameroon's Issa Hayatou, the president of the African football confederation (CAF), who was one of the three ExCo members accused of taking bribes by Panorama.
Hayatou said yesterday that he was considering legal action against the BBC but would not allow the issue to affect the way he regarded the English bid. Hayatou said: "There is a big difference between Panorama and my relationship with the England bid, there is no confusion in my mind."