England's 2018 World Cup bid team yesterday launched a passionate defence of their campaign as the public relations war among bidding nations intensified.
Two days before David Beckham's morale-boosting appearance in Cape Town on the eve of the World Cup draw, bid chief executive Andy Anson remained adamant that England were well on course with their strategy despite unrelenting criticism that rival countries are outdoing them.
Speaking at the Soccerex conference in Johannesburg – the precursor to three days of frantic 2018 lobbying in Cape Town – Anson insisted that momentum was building and that bringing the World Cup to England for the first time in more than half a century was becoming ever more realistic. He said: "This is an important time in the bid with a year to go before the vote. We have a very clear road map. We believe we are making significant progress. There will be some significant activity with David Beckham in Cape Town later this week."
England's presence at Soccerex has been relatively low key compared to the promotional activities of Russia and Qatar, who have both taken central stands in the heart of the exhibition area. England, for their part, are sponsoring the last session of the conference today, though by then many of the most influential delegates will have departed for Cape Town.
Anson shrugged off such criticism, however, revealing that Beckham and other bid team officials would be holding a series of private meetings with individual members of Fifa's 24-strong executive committee in Cape Town before Friday's draw.
England bid board member Paul Elliott has already met with the Nigerian representative on the committee, Amos Amudu.
Africa's three votes are considered critical to England's success and Anson said the special relationship with the African continent would be stepped up as a result. "Part of our plans are to build on that in a very significant, sustainable way," said Anson.
"The core of this campaign is individual meetings with executive committee members and other influential people. We believe we have the right strategy. It would be the most commercially successful World Cup ever."
Asked for the umpteenth time how badly the bid had been damaged by various political setbacks over the past few weeks, not least the resignation from the bid board of Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards, Anson said: "Some of the things that have happened have not been particularly helpful. But Dave is still campaigning for us. He has strong contacts and nothing has changed in that regard."