Blatter opens door for England World Cup bid

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The Independent Online

Few things are certain in the Byzantine world of Fifa politics but what Sepp Blatter wants, Sepp Blatter usually gets, which means England will this week be given the green light to launch a bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Fifa's executive committee are meeting in Zurich today and tomorrow to consider the destination of the 2014 tournament, and the process by which they will decide the location of 2018. The decisions, which will be made today, and announced tomorrow, are connected.

Brazil are virtually certain to be awarded the 2014 finals despite reservations about the country's infrastructure, stadia, and crime rate, as they are the only bidder. None of the perceived problems appeared to register with Fifa's official inspection committee who reported favourably on the bid last week. However, they did add a caveat suggesting Fifa effectively take over the organisation. The five-time winners, who last hosted the finals in 1950, will be quietly made aware that a failure to acquiesce, or to begin adequate preparation, could yet see the tournament moved at short notice, most probably to the United States. This prospect will grow if South Africa, which faces the same issues, delivers a flawed tournament in 2010.

South Africa host those finals largely because Blatter, Fifa's president, pushed through a policy of rotating the finals between the world governing bodies regional confederations following his failure to deliver the 2006 tournament to Africa, as he had promised. Thus 2010 was awarded to the continent, which had never previously staged a finals. When South Africa won the bid the rotation policy had served its purpose. It is now beginning to create problems.

Rotation meant the next host had to come from South America, which last hosted in 1978 (Argentina) but only Brazil and Colombia bid, and the latter then withdrew. Fifa prefer a bidding contest: it creates publicity and offers options and leverage.

Should rotation continue 2018 would be destined for Concacaf (North and Central America) as 2002 was in Asia (Japan and South Korea) and 2006 in Europe (Germany). However, only Mexico and the US could conceivably stage the tournament and both have hosted in the last 21 years. Moreover, rotation means Europe, football's powerbase in terms of teams, sponsors and television audiences, would only host once every 20 years. So Blatter has decreed rotation will end despite predictable opposition from American Chuck Blazer, an executive committee member, who yesterday said: "The cycle must be allowed to complete itself, which means us in 2018. Afterwards, by all means open it up. I will make this point in the interests of equity."

In a global bidding contest England can expect to face opposition from China, the US, Australia, Russia, Spain, and a combined bid from Belgium and the Netherlands. Of these only the US (1994) and Spain (1982) have previously hosted. England, of course, were hosts in 1966 and, less gloriously, failed in a bid to host 2006. Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has already promised Government support and the Scot began the necessary glad-handling when he met Blatter last week.

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