England's bid team for the 2018 World Cup sought to use royal influence to win the key support of Qatar in its failed attempt to host the finals for the first time in more than half a century.
In the wake of December's disastrous conclusion to the campaign in Zurich, members of the England contingent had sought to portray themselves as innocents abroad amid the impenetrable and corrupt backroom dealing that pervades Fifa, football's world governing body. But England's willingness to play the game of international football politicking has been exposed through a "freedom of information" request made by the BBC.
The Foreign Office and the bid team from the Football Association reportedly wanted to use the Duke of York to talk to members of the Qatari royal family. Prince Andrew is the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment and the suggested plan was for him to telephone the Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and "seek his support for the England bid". It is not known whether the Duke made any calls or representations on the bid's behalf.
One email released to the BBC reads: "The advice from the ambassador in Doha is that, subject to anything that happened at that meeting, we should ask the Duke to be kind enough to speak to the Emir on the phone as soon as is convenient and before 23 April in order to seek his support for the England bid."
Last year, the Emir made a state visit to the UK, where it was hoped the Prince of Wales would discuss the bids with him, while other correspondence revealed attempts to set up a meeting between the Duke of York and the Emir's wife, Sheikha Mozah. Clarence House has issued a statement to the BBC denying any discussions over vote-swapping took place.
Qatar was the controversial winner of the race to host the 2022 finals, which was determined on the same day as Russia won the 2018 vote. Despite sending Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham to Zurich in an attempt to wow the Fifa delegates, England was left badly embarrassed as it managed to secure just two votes out of 22.
Fifa has since admitted that holding two campaigns, for 2018 and 2022, was an error as claims of voting collusion dogged the closing months of the race. No evidence was found by Fifa's ethics committee of a widely reported deal between Spain and Qatar, though Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president, later admitted that there had been some collusion.
Qatar's bid was well connected within the game. Mohamed Bin Hammam, the head of the Asian Football Confederation and a likely challenger to Blatter's long reign over world football in the near future, is a Qatari.
England's bid is likely to come in for further criticism next week in the latest session of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee's inquiry into football governance. Peter Coates, the owner of Stoke City and a member of the FA's international committee, will give evidence on Tuesday and said yesterday that he would not hesitate to speak his mind about the 2018 bid.
He said: "If you go and spend all that money just to get one vote, and have the Prime Minister and heir to the throne go and get egg on their face, I think we do need to improve."
The Prince, who has been criticised for his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein after the US billionaire was jailed for soliciting prostitution from minors, has now, according to the Daily Mail, agreed to sever links. But the Prince faces further criticism amid allegations that as a UK trade representative he played host at Buckingham Palace last year to Sakher el-Materi, the son-in-law of Tunisia's deposed president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
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