England face a race against time to win the right to stage the 2018 World Cup amid lingering suspicions that a vote-trading deal between Spain/Portugal and the 2022 candidates Qatar may scupper months of intensive lobbying.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is expected to meet Fifa's long-serving vice-president Jack Warner this week in an effort to secure the three votes from North and Central America (Concacaf) that are now considered imperative for England to have any chance of getting over the line in Zurich on 2 December.
Although Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, insisted on Friday that the corruption scandal uncovered by The Sunday Times will not rebound on England, there is widespread concern that the highly complimentary technical report into England's bid may prove secondary to the personal agendas of many Fifa executive members angry at seeing two of their colleagues kicked out of the organisation in the wake of the allegations.
Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, suspended for three years and one year respectively by Fifa's ethics committee for their role in the cash-for-votes débâcle, may well have both voted for England. With 12 votes now the majority winning figure it is understood that other Fifa executive committee members originally sympathetic to England's bid may support one of the three rival European contenders to avenge Adamu and Temarii – even though England 2018 have taken every necessary step to distance themselves from the explosive corruption claims.
There are also rumours that informal discussions are taking place behind the scenes to get England out of the way in the first round of the secret ballot, with voters going for the underdogs Holland/Belgium, only to switch to Russia or Spain/Portugal for the run-in.
Even Blatter himself admits that some Fifa members may ignore England's glowing technical report. Asked if they should use the inspection reports as the main criterion, Blatter replied: "In principle yes, otherwise we shouldn't even make a technical report if those who are voting are not using the information. But we are not only dealing with the institution of Fifa but with human beings, and human beings may have other ideas than those which are available in the documents."
The Independent on Sunday has received strong indications that Fifa's three remaining African delegates, wooed with intensity by all nine candidates for both 2018 and 2022, are almost certain to vote against England as a result of what they see as a media witch-hunt.
In the emergency executive committee meeting on Friday to consider the fallout of the two bans and the suspensions imposed against four other senior Fifa officials, the president of the African Confederation, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, was just one of a number of senior members who expressed their displeasure at the ethics committee being given the power to take such draconian and far-reaching actions.
Even though Spain/Portugal and Qatar have been cleared of vote-trading conspiracy theories remain, with seven of the 22 executive committee members allegedly pledging their support to the two contenders. In Doha last week, Qatari officials were furious at suggestions that any deal had been done.
Blatter appeared to support them last week when he said there was nothing wrong with collusion if it merely involved people talking to each other. "Eight of the nine bidding candidates have Fifa executive committee members," he said. "It is obvious they speak together." But it should not amount to conspiracy, according to some in Fifa's inner sanctum, who have little doubt that a deal has been struck, initiated not by Qatar but by South America's three-strong bloc who, for obvious reasons, want Spain to succeed in 2018.
Last night a fresh twist was added to the chaotic bid process when it emerged that Adamu and Temarii could be replaced in time for the vote, bringing it back up its full quota of 24, if they accept their punishments rather than go through a lengthy appeal.Reuse content