One of the Fifa officials who England insist broke his promise to support them at last week's 2018 World Cup vote says he never agreed to anything and that Russia probably won because of Fifa's determination to take the tournament to new destinations.
As the acting FA chairman Roger Burden surprigingly pulled out of the running for the job on a permanent basis in protest at the humiliating two-vote elimination on Thursday, Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus was dismissive of England's angry reaction at missing out on staging the World Cup for the first time in over half a century. "There are no promises to anybody," Lefkaritis told The Independent on Sunday. "Who says I changed my mind? I never said who I was voting for. Was I surprised England only got two votes? Yes, very. But I wouldn't have been surprised had they got to the final against Russia and still lost.
"England's final presentation was excellent, that's true. But there are many other things around the procedure that may affect the people who vote. After the success of the World Cup in South Africa, a lot of people felt the World Cup could be organised in other places than in traditional superpowers. I could feel it. Other bidders maybe did an equally good job and were underestimated."
Lefkaritis, understood to have infuriated the England bid leader Andy Anson more than any other Fifa voter, repeated his assertion that the behaviour of the English media and the perceived witchhunt against Fifa before the vote may have cost England support. "It was maybe one of the reasons, yes. It didn't affect my vote at all but it possibly did with others."
Anson and his team, while regretting the timing of last Monday's Panorama programme, are adamant that newspaper and broadcasting revelations alone could not have resultedin such a damning defeat for their £15m campaign, and are upset at Fifa's demonstration of collective anti-England bias. All the detailed technical and economic evidence that put England way ahead of their rivals was seemingly ignored along with their final presentation in Zurich, which even Blatter described as "remarkable".
"It's a convenient excuse," said Anson of the apparent media backlash. "If Fifa's mantra is that countries who haven't hosted before should be preferred, they need to make that absolutely clear. You do all the work on what you think matters and it seems to count for nothing."
Lefkaritis didn't see it that way. "I'm not anti-English but no one has ever said that the voting would be decidedjust by the inspection visits and presentations. Why is England saying there was no objectivity? In my opinion objectivity means whether a country can organise, yes or no. England say they can organise tomorrow. But this is not just about tomorrow."
Anson admits it was always going to be a struggle to dislodge the Russians who had legacy as their key message, yet even they were stunned at their margin and speed of victory.
Then there was the Vladimir Putin factor. It was a mighty gamble for the Russian prime minister to say that, after all the corruption allegations they had endured, he would notfollow David Cameron's example and attend the vote, as he did not wish to put undue pressure on the 22 Fifa executive committee members.
Russian bid officials had urged Putin, right up until the 11th hour, to think again but far from backfiring, his decision proved a masterstroke.
Anson admitted: "Clearly people were impressed by the Russian campaign from very early days and thought that's where the World Cup should go. We always got the feeling at the top levels of Fifa that they wanted Russia. We understood that the Fifa president was supportive of Russia throughout, we just thought we could get enough support across the federations to counter that."
That support never materialised. Even Senes Erzik of Turkey, backed by England for the 2016 European Championships when his country lost to France, refused to return the compliment. He informed the England bid chairman Geoff Thompson it was "nothing personal and just business" when he reneged on an apparent promise. Failure to secure the three-strong Concacaf bloc from north and central America, led by the controversial Jack Warner, was another blow.
With England out in the first round, half the backing for the Holland/Belgium bid switched to Russia, including Uefa president Michel Platini. No wonder the conspiracy and duplicitytheories came thick and fast. No wonder, too, there were immediate calls to open up the voting process to all of Fifa's 208 federations, Olympic-style, rather than give so much power to a select few.
Platini was one of those who went on to back Qatar, whose 14 final-round votes for 2022 constituted the biggest shock in World Cup bidding history and prompted a string of renewed corruption allegations against the tiny gas and oil-rich Middle East state.
Yesterday, the German legend Franz Beckenbauer, one of several Fifa Exco members who agreed it was folly to hold simultaneous World Cup votes, suggested the 2022 finals be held early in the year instead of the 50-degree heat of mid-summer, regardless of Qatar's proposed sophisticated and innovative cooling techniques.
"One should think about a different solution," Beckenbauer said. "The biggest leagues in the world have to change for one season but that would not be a major undertaking."
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