England rely on late lobbying to persuade Fifa of bid's worth

After two years of intense politicking 2018 World Cup team hope Beckham and Co can swing vote in three days
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The Independent Online

The disclosure yesterday that Fifa's own economic study had found England the most likely to deliver the biggest profits from a World Cup from the nine candidates in the running for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments was the kind of good news that the English 2018 bid had been hoping for.

But against a backdrop of corruption allegations, a BBC documentary and the frantic last-minute lobbying to steal votes from rival nations, it was only the briefest of triumphs. There are three days left until the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter stands on the stage at the Zurich Messehalle and is handed an envelope from an independent Swiss notary containing the identity of the hosts for the two tournaments and no one can call either race.

The English bid team will learn over a series of high-profile meetings today just how much last night's BBC Panorama documentary has hurt their chances – primarily the effect it has on their relationship with Jack Warner, the Fifa executive committee (ExCo) member who they hope is one of their chief allies.

When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of Fifa politics, a positive economic study will have a negligible effect set against the damage done by Panorama to the egos of the kingmakers among football's world governing body.

Over the next days, England could swing the crucial votes behind them, most importantly those they could potentially inherit from the bids knocked out in the first and second rounds. Alternatively, they could see their support fade away and suffer a humiliating early exit themselves, in which case it would be their votes who would be picked off by the two favourites Russia and Spain-Portugal.

The lobbying begins in earnest today at the opulent Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where the English 2018 bid will do their best to get as many of the 22 ExCo members, including Warner, in for an audience with David Cameron in which the Prime Minister will attempt to convince them of England's merits to host the 2018 tournament.

In the lobby, groups of ExCo members will collect and melt away, with officials from all bids anxiously trying to read the signs. The England bid are billing the Cameron-David Beckham-Prince William triumvirate ,who will all be in Zurich by tomorrow, as their "Three Lions" who they believe can sway the vote their way.

It is a remarkable way to decide the venue for the biggest sporting event in the world, but for the next few days the 22 current ExCo members – potentially 23 if the Oceania confederation is reinstated today – will be feted by some of the most powerful and famous statesmen in the world, including Vladimir Putin and Bill Clinton.

It has been a long road for Andy Anson, England's 2018 chief executive who described yesterday as the "first 10 metres of the final 100". His bid team has, he said, their "path to victory" mapped out but he knows that, unless they consolidate the votes they believe they have in the bag, there is a chance that the ExCo will smell weakness. If a significant bloc like Warner's Concacaf (Central and North America and the Caribbean) deserts, the rest will too.

At least the Fifa-commissioned McKinsey report into the financial viability of the nine nations bidding for the two tournaments has found so decisively in England's favour. In the five main revenue streams of ticketing, media rights, licensing, hospitality and sponsorship, England came out as the candidate country most likely to earn the most across all of them.

The cultivation of ExCo members, painstakingly done over the last two years, has involved thousands of air miles and countless meetings and the English bid will not allow the BBC to destroy that in 30 minutes' television. It was Anson's choice of word to describe the ExCo as a "brotherhood" yesterday and he intimated that he treated any slur on their character as he would one on his own.

The tension with the BBC over the Panorama documentary is palpable, with Anson refusing to grant the corporation's top sports correspondent a one-on-one interview. The 2018 team believe that the BBC's justification for broadcasting ther investigation, that England's 2018 bid cannot get a fair hearing from Fifa, is fundamentally flawed.

There was a testy exchange in a press conference yesterday when Anson was asked outright by a BBC reporter if any ExCo member had asked for money in return for his vote. It is evident that in the event of the English bid triumphing on Thursday that relationship will take some time to recover.

The voting patterns are so difficult to predict because of the complicated deals that have been struck across the two separate bids. All ExCo members have one vote in each race and the most obvious case of collusion is between Spain, bidding for 2018, and Qatar, in the running for 2022. The theory is Spain will deliver Qatar their core of three Conmebol (South America) votes for 2022 in return for getting the Thai and Egypt ExCo member votes shored up by Qatar for 2018.

But that would be little different to England giving the ExCo vote they control (former Football Association chairman Geoff Thompson's) in the 2022 race to Japan in return for the Japanese ExCo member Junji Ogura voting for them in the 2018 bidding.

"As Sepp Blatter said, Fifa ExCo members are going to speak and, if you are going to have a 2018 and a 2022 race, it is inevitable that people will talk [about deals]," Anson said. "Fifa understand that. I don't think it is working against us. People come with a number of votes in support of them. We weren't surprised of talk of collusion. We always had our process built around that happening."

Anson preferred to describe the still undecided more diplomatically as "those members at different stages of their decision-making process. It is people who have options. The fact that there are two votes running [simultaneously] complicates the process for ExCo members. Our strategy is very focused on having the right number of votes to get across the line."

Even the line-up of the five individuals who will give England's final presentation to the ExCo on Thursday – five is the number prescribed by Fifa's tight controls on protocol – is under wraps. There was a suggestion yesterday that Fifa would require all bidding nations to divulge that information but, like the announcement on whether Oceania's vote would be reinstated, Fifa seemed to be in a state of indecision yesterday.

Today, the English bid begins rolling out the big guns, with David Beckham arriving in Zurich and expected to be put to good use in front of ExCo members and the world's media. The greatest fascination for Chelsea watchers will be on Thursday when Roman Abramovich will be part of Russia's five-strong presentation and the world will, potentially, hear the secretive billionaire speak in public for the first time.

Anson thinks by tomorrow evening he will know which way the vote is going and, like everyone else ,he sees it lasting three rounds. There are, as he likes to say, "clear routes to victory" for England, but there is also a scenario in which they go out humiliated in the first round, defeated even by the Netherlands-Belgium bid that has no chance of going the distance.

If the English bid is not to win then, with so many expectant famous faces being beamed back home live on television, it must at least not be humiliated. But in a race that has remained so unpredictable right to the end, and with the late obstacle of last night's Panorama documentary to swerve, that is by no means a certainty.

Timeline of england's troubled bid

2007

* 31 October: FA announces England will bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.



2008

* 12 October: FA chairman Lord Triesman confirmed as bid chairman.



2009

* 18 May: David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially launch England's 2018 bid at Wembley.

* 22 October: Jack Warner, Fifa's vice-president, criticises England for giving designer handbags to the wives of Fifa Executive Committee members.



2010

* 14 May: Beckham presents England's 1,700-page bid book to Fifa president Sepp Blatter in Zurich.

* 16 May: Lord Triesman resigns after being secretly taped by a newspaper accusing the Spanish and Russian bids of bribery. Replaced by Geoff Thompson.

* 17 October: The Sunday Times alleges up to six Fifa officials, including two Executive Committee members, asked for cash in return for World Cup votes.

* 17 November: Fifa's evaluation reports judge the England and Spain/Portugal bids as low risk, while putting the Netherlands/Belgium and Russian bids as medium risk.

* 18 November: Fifa's ethics committee suspends six officials. Spain/Portugal and Qatar are both cleared of collusion.

* 29 November: BBC airs Panorama investigation into Fifa corruption.

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