Threat to England World Cup bid

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England's proposed pounds 10m bid to stage the 2006 World Cup finals has received a serious early setback with Uefa, the European game's governing body, deciding to back alternative hosts. It seems that Germany, the English game's perennial scourges, had their towels on the sunbeds first.

The Football Association received a fax from Uefa on Friday - informing, say the FA; reminding, say Uefa - saying that the Germans' bid is preferred. The FA claim they can find no record of official backing for the Germans and that such a move would subvert the democratic process ahead of the decision that Fifa, the world governing body, will take in June 2000.

"We are astonished," Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, said. "Our quibble is not with the Germans. They are entitled to put their case, but so are we. We believe that the selection process should be fair, transparent and democratic."

Alex McGivan, the FA's campaign director for World Cup 2006, said: "If anything this has made us more determined to present our case to footballing countries all over the world."

Uefa no doubt wish to avoid the problems which arose with the 2002 World Cup, when two nations from the same continent made rival bids. The unsatisfactory solution has Japan and South Korea sharing the finals.

Kelly said the FA have sent a letter of protest to Uefa and will mobilise politicians and other public figures in an attempt to force Uefa to withdraw the decision taken at an executive committee meeting in Lisbon last week.

John Major and Tony Blair put the Government and the Labour party firmly behind the FA's bid. The Prime Minister said: "No other country can put together the combination of historic links and technical and sporting prowess which the FA brings to its application."

Mr Blair said: "We strongly believe the bids should be judged on merit, not on the basis of some cosy stitch-up."

However, there is a limit to the influence that politicians can wield from outside the game; England's problem is its weakness in football politics. The former chairman of the FA Sir Bert Millichip attended the Lisbon meeting as a special adviser but is no longer a member of the executive committee.

The president of the German association, Egidius Braun, is vice-president and treasurer of the executive committee, although publicly the FA attach little significance to that. It may be felt privately at Lancaster Gate that they have received the fax, which resulted from 'any other business' at the Lisbon meeting, in advance of a Downing Street reception next week for the England team, to which several influential figures in football politics were invited and could have expected to be lobbied about England's bid.

"We have a duty to the game to make sure that our case is properly heard. If we lose the decision to Germany, we would accept that, just as we accept defeat on the football field," Kelly said. This one could also go to penalties.