While England continue their desperate global glad-handing as the race to host the 2018 World Cup enters its final week, the man they must persuade to back them if they are to stand any chance has claimed that next week's Panorama programme could sway the minds of the 22 Fifa members who will determine the winners.
Geoff Thompson, England's bid chairman, yesterday introduced a 30-minute presentation to the Asian Football Confederation – the influential ExCo members Mohamed bin Hammam and Chung Mong-joon were among the audience – and claimed that they would deliver a "spectacular" welcome. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, added that the 2012 London Olympics would serve as a "warm-up" to hosting the country's first finals since 1966. How that will go down in the offices of the London Organising Committee remains to be seen, but England need every assistance over the closing week if they are to garner the required number of votes in Zurich next Thursday.
Chief among those they must win support from is Jack Warner, the controversial Trinidadian who brings with him two other Concacaf votes. Without him, England will have little chance of bettering the joint Spain/Portugal bid or the Russians. Yesterday Warner picked up his attack on the BBC. But worryingly for the England bid he went further than in his previous barbs at the corporation by saying that the programme could have an effect on the way members voted.
Warner said: "I believe it might but I don't know really how much... but I would imagine there must be some negative fallout." Michel Platini, the president of Uefa and another ExCo member, had voiced similar concerns last week.
The 67-year-old Warner is expected to be one of the Fifa members featured in the programme. He said: "I don't want to dignify the foolishness by the BBC and what they want to show. If the BBC want to show anything, they could show it, what more could the BBC say about Jack Warner, come on, and while the BBC is doing its nonsense, I am doing my work, so I'm not worried about that. I leave here on Sunday to go to vote on the bid. I haven't yet made up my mind how I'm voting."
Clarence House yesterday confirmed that Prince William would be in Zurich. The Prince, president of the Football Association, will meet privately with Fifa delegates and then attend England's presentation on Thursday morning and the announcement of the winning bid later that afternoon.
Lord Coe, who oversaw London's successful bid for the 2012 Games and is aiding England's campaign, believes the influence of the likes of the Prince and prime minister David Cameron can prove key once the circus arrives in Zurich next week. Cameron is scheduled to spend three days in Switzerland, including lunching with Warner.
"I think it's very important," said Coe, who is friendly with Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president. "I know from feedback that he's made a big impression with the engagement that he's had so far in this process. And it is very important that the executive committee members of Fifa know that this bid has the full support from the very highest political level in the land."
Coe believes England can overcome any negative impact from the Panorama programme through intensive lobbying over the closing days. David Beckham, who tends to make Fifa members from Blatter downwards swoon, will also be in Zurich. "It's a pretty good triumvirate, isn't it?" said Coe.
The Iberian bid announced last night that Cristiano Ronaldo would be part of their delegation in Zurich. Iker Casillas and Vicente del Bosque will represent the Spanish World Cup winners.Reuse content