England's bid chief: BBC is 'unpatriotic' and 'sensationalist'

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The Independent Football

The tension behind the scenes in England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup burst out into the open yesterday when chief executive Andy Anson accused the BBC of being "unpatriotic" and "sensationalist" in choosing to broadcast a Panorama investigation of corruption in the biding process just days before Fifa's final vote.

Anson's comments came on the day England's bid received a lift from the publication of the executive summary of Fifa's technical report into the risks associated with the competing bids to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. England was ranked as "low risk", the same category as the joint Spanish and Portuguese bid but marginally ahead of the "medium risk" Russian bid.

"I'm incredibly disappointed with the timing of what the BBC is proposing with Panorama," Anson said. "If they truly believe there's a journalistic reason for this, they could have done it any time in the last two years; to do it like this is sensationalism."

Anson denied that during a meeting with the BBC director general, Mark Thompson, last month he asked for the programme to be pulled but admitted he was frank about the potential damage the broadcast could do. "I went to see Mark Thompson. I didn't ask him for anything but all I said was: 'Here are the potential implications,'" Anson said. "It's not very patriotic of the BBC. They could have done it any time in the last two years or next two years."

Panorama is scheduled to be broadcast on 29 November, with the Fifa vote taking place three days later. "Maybe we're overreacting. I'm hoping it's an uninteresting and uninspiring programme," Anson added.

The BBC said Panorama's findings would "be in the public interest".

Fifa's technical report has not been published in full, with only its executive summary being released, but it has been circulated around the 24 Fifa executive committee members. While the English bid has done at least as well as the Iberian bid and better than their main rivals Russia, they would have hoped for a better outcome from the report. The strength of England's bid has been its pre-existing infrastructure, while Russia have based their efforts upon promises of improvement. A marginal difference between the countries' reports will have undershot expectations for Anson's team.

One criticism of England was on hotel provision. "In terms of accommodation, the bidder proposes a relatively large inventory," the report said. "However, the fact that not many of the rooms have been contracted in full compliance with Fifa's template hotel agreement requires further analysis and potentially renegotiation. Fifa could be exposed to excessive pricing."

That aside, the report reflected well on the English bid. Thirteen of the 15 categories were marked as "low risk" and there was specific praise for transport, stadia, IT, security and marketing.

The report will not be the only influential event this week. Fifa's ethics committee will announce today if two executive committee members accused of corruption, Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii, will be suspended.

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