David Cameron has described as "frustrating" the BBC's decision to broadcast a controversial Panorama investigation into Fifa three days before football's governing body decides whether England will host the 2018 World Cup finals.
The advance guard of England's 30-strong team, which will eventually include Prince William, the Prime Minister and David Beckham, departs for Zurich tomorrow ahead of Thursday's vote. Monday's Panorama is expected to explore allegations of impropriety against senior Fifa figures as well as highlighting the laws and tax exemption clauses the winning nation has to introduce in Fifa's favour when hosting the finals.
In the wake of The Sunday Times's exposé that led to the suspension of two of the half-dozen men who will vote, further allegations aired by the British media are unlikely to be well received in Fifa House, the governing body's HQ in Zurich, and could further damage England's bid.
The timing of the programme, as the bidders and voters assemble for two days of presentation and glad-handing, has upset the English team – Andy Anson, the chief executive, recently described it as "unpatriotic" – and on today's Football Focus, to be broadcast on the BBC at lunchtime, Mr Cameron voices his concerns over the programme.
He said: "Is it frustrating that Panorama's doing this programme a few days before? Of course it is. But it's a free country and you have to roll with that. I think Fifa will understand that and we also have to try to convince them, yes we've got a robust and independent media, but our media love football."
England's bid team is concerned over the potential impact of the programme. Fifa members are particularly sensitive to criticism and some of the remaining 22 on the executive committee, the voters, are known to be unhappy with the respective ban and suspension of the Nigerian Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti after the Sunday Times corruption allegations.
England are competing with Russia, seen as favourites, and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium, the rank outsiders. Each will give a 30-minute presentation on Thursday followed by a secret ballot. In the event of a tie, Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, will have the casting vote.
Mr Cameron has been an enthusiastic backer of the bid since he took office and last month hosted a lunch at Downing Street for Mr Blatter.
England are believed to have fallen behind the Iberian bid and the Russians since the Sunday Times scandal broke, but are dispatching a star-studded line-up to Switzerland that includes Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the 1966 World Cup winners, as well as the current England manager, Fabio Capello. Vladimir Putin will attend to push the Russian bid, while Cristiano Ronaldo provides an element of glitz for the Iberians. Bill Clinton will be another high-profile politician in attendance as the US are seeking to win the rights to host the 2022 finals which will also be decided on Thursday.
Mr Cameron said: "We've got a real fight on our hands in Zurich, but I think we've got a great case to make."
Mr Cameron has also written to a number of newspapers around the globe highlighting the multicultural nature of football in this country. "It is part of what defines us as a country," he wrote in one Ghanaian paper. "England is the most multicultural football nation on the planet.
"Our bid is not just about what a 2018 World Cup could do for England. It's about what England 2018 could do for your country, and for the world."
Prince William will join England's team in Zurich in his role as president of the Football Association. He has written an open letter that will feature in the match programme of all this weekend's Premier League game. The prince writes: "Football is in the lifeblood of this nation. English people live and breathe the game."
Whether Fifa's cloistered officials agree remains to be seen, but England do at least have some solid foundations to fall back on. The main strength of England's bid is the impressive report it received from Fifa's inspectors, with most of the stadiums already in place in particular contrast with the Russian bid. There are also fears surrounding the Iberian bid given the economic climate, as much of their funding will come from central government.
How will Fifa vote?
Sepp Blatter (Switzerland), President of Fifa
Voting intention (VI): Unknown
Julio H Grondona (Argentina) Conmebol
VI: The entire South American confederation is believed to be backing Spain/Portugal
Issa Hayatou (Cameroon) CAF
VI: Russia are seen as favourites to secure the African vote
Chung Mong Joon (Korean Republic) AFC
VI: Unknown, one England need to win round
Jack Warner (Trinidad and Tobago) Concacaf
VI: England, a key man for their bid to win
Angel Maria Villar Llona (Spain) Uefa
Michel Platini (France) Uefa
VI: Holland/Belgium but then possibly England in round two if the Dutch go out
Geoff Thompson (England) Uefa
Michel D'Hooghe (Belgium) Uefa
Ricardo Terra Teixeira (Brazil) Conmebol
Mohamed Bin Hammam (Qatar) AFC
Senes Erzik (Turkey) Uefa, VI: England
Chuck Blazer (USA) Concacaf
VI: England/Russia, another crucial vote England need to win
Worawi Makudi (Thailand) AFC
Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay) Conmebol
Junji Ogura (Japan) AFC
VI: Possibly leaning towards England
Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus) Uefa
Jacques Anouma (Côte d'Ivoire) CAF
VI: Russia are confident of securing the African vote.
Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) Uefa
Rafael Salguero (Guatemala) CONCACAF
Hany Abo Rida (Egypt) CAF
VI: Russia as other CAF members
Vitaly Mutko (Russia) Uefa
VI: Russia (he is Russian sport minister and chairman of their bid)Reuse content