Exclusive: England 2018 bid set to win key backing from Europe

Survey of voters who will decide World Cup host shows campaign is on track despite recent criticism
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The Independent Online

England's bid to stage the 2018 World Cup has not been damaged by recent political infighting, according to exclusive canvassing by The Independent of members of the all-important Fifa Executive Committee (ExCo), which will decide the host for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

Sources across three continents, speaking under condition of anonymity, stated that England "still has every chance" of securing crucial support from the Uefa region in the bidding process next year. Five ExCo members from Europe are expected to vote for England from the first round of voting, with more joining in subsequent waves as rival bids drop out. The rounds of voting continue until a winner emerges.

The Uefa region has eight ExCo voters. Four of them (including England's Geoff Thompson, plus the ExCo members from Russia, Spain and Belgium) represent bidding nations, and are expected to back their home nations in the first round. The remaining four are planning to vote collectively, to boost the chances of the 2018 World Cup coming to Europe. Together the Uefa bloc is likely to be decisive.

The news comes after weeks of turmoil in which Jack Warner, Fifa vice-president, criticised England's "lightweight" campaign. The 2018 team has also been riven by civil war that led to a major restructuring last week.

The Independent's investigation also discovered that England retains key ExCo allies in Europe, while another source spoke highly of England's "solid, respectable standing" in Africa, where another four votes are up for grabs. It also seems that one or more votes are winnable in Asia.

"It's true that disgruntled people in various spheres relating to English football have been making noise," said one influential figure. "But based solely on objective facts, England is presenting a very strong bid, a bid that's being well received by people who matter.

"It's obvious England is a football nation, one with the infrastructure and stadiums, and we know it will have experience of [the] 2012 [Olympics] in terms of staging a huge international event. These facts will be important."

One ExCo member who was happy to speak on the record was America's Chuck Blazer, who holds one of three votes in the Concacaf region. Blazer was instrumental in taking the successful 1994 World Cup to his country and the US will produce a strong bid tipped as a hot contender for 2022.

Blazer laughed off suggestions that England's bid has been damaged by recent events, which led to claims that England 2018 is in the last chance saloon, 13 months ahead of voting. "To call anyone dead at this stage is ridiculous," Blazer said from his New York office. "Things are only just getting started. There's a year to go and we're all just revving up."

In a vote in December next year, eight bids will vie for 2018: England, Russia, Portugal and Spain jointly, the Netherlands and Belgium jointly, the US, Australia, Japan and Indonesia. In the ring for 2022 are those eight plus Qatar and South Korea.

A winning bid nation will need 13 of 24 votes. It is widely expected that after tournaments away from Europe in 2010 and 2014, a European country will get 2018, which will make other European bidders ineligible for 2022.

Of the recent controversy in England, Blazer said: "It's that old curiosity of the English press feeding on itself... the England bid team are out there, they're working, they're doing all they can."

Other ExCo voters have gone on the record in recent days about England. Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus said: "I met with the FA chairman David Triesman and I think England is doing a good job." Mohammed Bin Hammam of Qatar said: "The way I see it, the English are doing just as well as the other bidders."

The majority of voters prefer to speak only privately of what is an intensely political process. Andy Anson, the chief executive of England 2018, told The Independent: "I remain confident that our campaign strategy is intact and the votes we're targeting are realisable.

"We've been listening an awful lot and we're now developing our detailed thinking about the bid and how it resonates around the world, and it's having a strong effect."

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