England’s World Cup bid is badly damaged
Prime Minister David Cameron will try to salvage England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals today when he meets Jack Warner, the FIFA official who is crucial to the success of the campaign and was last night at the centre of allegations by the controversial BBC Panorama investigation.
Cameron will meet Warner, one of the FIFA executive committee (ExCo) who will vote on 2018 on Thursday, in Zurich with those close to the talks even suggesting that both men will dispense with aides to speak face-to-face behind closed doors.
Warner, a Trinidad government minister controls the three votes of the Concacaf region — covering North and Central America and the Caribbean — and is crucial to England's chances of success. If he decides to abandon England after three years of assiduous courting by the English bid team then they face the possibility that other backers could melt away too leaving the bid stranded.
It is a sign of how crucial Warner is to English hopes that he will be the principal target for England's final push in the lobbying before Thursday with Cameron and David Beckham arriving in Zurich today — and Prince William tomorrow — for one last push for votes.
In the BBC Panorama investigation broadcast last night, it was alleged that Warner attempted to order tickets worth $84,240 (£54,000) on behalf of touts for the 2010 World Cup, but, according to Panorama, the alleged deal “fell through”.
Privately there was disbelief yesterday from the 2018 team that the BBC's much-hyped Panorama programme would chose to run a ‘non- story’ about Warner when it was potentially so damaging to the bid.
The 2018 chief executive Andy Anson said that he was too busy lobbying to watch the Panorama programme last night and would continue to “fight like crazy” to secure the votes that England needed.
However, in private, the 2018 team admit that they will only know the extent of the damage inflicted by Panorama's revelations on their campaign after the meetings with Warner.
The allegations against Warner are the same as those made in the Norwegian press prompting further criticism of the BBC that their material is not new.
The England bid had some good news yesterday when a FIFA report into the potential of all bidders to deliver a profitable World Cup rated England as the highest likely earner in every major category.
While bookmakers continue to make Russia the favourites to win the 2018 vote, with England third behind Spain-Portugal — and Australia to win the 2022 tournament — both races remain too tight to call. The unprecedented decision by FIFA to award the rights for two tournaments on one day has created a whole different dynamic in which votes and favours are being traded across both races.
The sense of tension has been exacerbated by the chaotic background to the vote. Even yesterday FIFA had not yet announced whether there would be 22 or 23 voters on Thursday. The Oceania football confederation have applied to have Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, one of two suspended ExCo members, replaced in time for Thursday, but he was still yet formally to drop his appeal last night — which would pave the way for a proxy.
Panorama also alleged that three further ExCo members took bribes from the sports marketing company International Sports and Lesiure, FIFA’s marketing partner, which collapsed in 2001 leaving the world governing body close to bankruptcy.
They have named Ricardo Teixeira, the head of Brazilian football; Issa Hayatou from Cameroon and Nicolas Leoz, the 82-year-old Paraguayan veteran of FIFA politics. They allege that all three men's names appear on a list of secret payments made between 1989 and 1999 that total around $100m.