World Cup 2018 – 9 days to decision

The reality is that this time next week the BBC Panorama programme into FIFA will have been aired and the England 2018 Bid team will be trying desperately to deal with the repercussions. Panorama have been here before with this subject matter with Jack Warner coming under the spotlight previously.

Jack Warner is currently the Trinidad and Tobago football executive, FIFA Vice-President and CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean  Association Football) President. His first brush with Panorama came when Warner was accused of corruption for repeatedly taking advantage of his position for financial gain. FIFA’s auditors, Ernst & Young, estimated that his family made a profit of at least $1 million from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets that Warner had ordered. Minutes of FIFA’s Executive Committee show that a fine of almost $1 million, equal to the expected profiteering, was imposed on the family.

Of the impending Panorama programme due to be screened on 29 November, the CONCACAF President has said it was “…deliberately designed to negatively impact…” on England’s bid and claims the programme is nothing more than “…a personal vendetta…”.

The England Bid team are aware that Warner holds the key to three votes which could be crucial to their chances of winning the 2018 decision. Previously, Warner was critical of the England Bid and caused controversy when he said  that “…England invented the sport but has never made any impact on world football…” he added that, “…for Europe, England is an irritant…”, and that “…nobody in Europe likes England…”. However, he has since been seen as an advocate of the English Bid. Indeed England have courted Warner over the last few years. In June 2008 England played Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain and as recently as this September this year, David Beckham was in Macoya (Trinidad) coaching youngsters and pressing the claims of the England 2018 Bid with Warner. This month too has seen more attempts to secure Warner’s support as Prime Minister David Cameron invited the CONCACAF President to lunch.

However, the Bid team know that they have to do more than focus on Jack Warner to ensure they get the 12 votes necessary and as the clock ticks down to decision day England 2018 representatives are out around the world. This week the Bid team is in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion staging a safety and security seminar at the home of CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) as part of its campaign to gain support from their FIFA Executive Committee members. Elsewhere, David Dein, the former Arsenal and FA vice-chairman, travels to Rio de Janeiro for informal meetings with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Brazil’s FIFA member Ricardo Terra Teixeira. Finally, England 2018 chairman Geoff Thompson, Chief Executive Andy Anson and Ambassador Paul Elliott will travel to Kuala Lumpur with Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to see the four Asian members of the FIFA Executive Committee.

Gentleman good luck, the hopes of the nations bid rest with you.

World Cup 2018 – 10 days to decision

According to a number of bookmakers England are still favourites to get the decision on 02 December to host the 2018 World Cup. So armed with a tenner would you put your money on Wembley Stadium having the World Cup Final played under its arch in 2018? What do the bookies base this on?

The issue of countries presenting joint bids is an interesting one. Both FIFA and UEFA over the years have gone with the dual nation arrangement for the hosting of their events. The 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea is the only occasion to date that the FIFA tournament has taken this approach. UEFA however, had the 2000 tournament in Belgium/Netherlands, the 2008 event in Austria/Switzerland and in 2012 is set to be played in Poland/Ukraine. This shows there has been some appetite in the past to try this approach, but have both UEFA and FIFA consigned future joint bids to the subs bench?

For 2014 FIFA has awarded the World Cup tournament to Brazil and for 2018, the recent Executive Summary Reports have stated that the fact that Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands are joint bids, is a possible risk/weakness of their submissions. Interestingly for 2022, there are no joint bids at all to host the World Cup. UEFA have awarded the 2016 European Championships to France and during that process the only joint bid (Norway/Sweden) withdrew before voting. So based on this apparent move back to single country hosting is it fair to surmise that the joint bids for 2018 will be unsuccessful?

If we assume this to be the case then England is left with Russia as its sole rival. FIFA has in recent years been looking to take the World Cup to different locations, as witnessed by Japan/South Korea (2002), South Africa (2010) and in 2022 could take it to new venues in either Qatar or Australia. So FIFA’s desire to broach new locations could work in Russia’s favour. Certainly Russia see the England Bid as a significant threat as witnessed by their outburst in October. Russian Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko has had to apologise for comments made by Alexei Sorokin, (General Director of the Russian Bid team). England complained that Russia had broken bidding rules when Sorokin made disparaging comments about London, highlighting the capitals high crime rate and youth alcohol problems. These details emerged from  an interview with the Russian media and appeared to contravene FIFA’s rules about talking about rival bidders. Further fuel was added to the fire after Viacheslav Koloskov (Honorary President of the Russian Football Union), referred to England’s 2018 bid as “absolutely primitive” and “comical”.

Not in Russia’s favour is it record on racism, the fact that the country would need 13 new stadiums for the event and supporting infrastructure. These present the Russian bid as more of a risk then the England 2018 Bid.

England United, The World Invited…..maybe, just maybe that tenner is worth a punt.

World Cup 2018 – 11 days to decision

Another day and more pressure on the England Bid. With FIFA President Sepp Blatter having had his say on  the impact of the Sunday Times investigation, UEFA President and FIFA Vice President Michel Platini has also offered his views.

Like his President, Platini maintains that the England 2018 World Cup Bid will not be affected by the Sunday Times incident or indeed the impending BBC Panorama programme into FIFA. However, Platini insisted that the risk came from the English media’s criticism of FIFA over a number of years.

In an interview with The Independent, Platini said, “…I don’t think it’s a problem. These investigations are just people doing their job…If they (the England bid) do not have a good feeling about FIFA, that’s nothing to do with these investigations, but that comes from what the English press have been writing about FIFA for very many years. That could be a problem for the bid…”

The trouble for the England Bid team is, when they should be in a position with the decision so close to be able to bring the campaign to a climax in a positive manner, they are instead having to deal with the Sunday Times fallout and prepare for trying to close the wound the Panorama programme will undoubtedly cause, just three days before the decision.

Whilst FIFA appear to be making the right noises, they always seem to come with a little sting in the tail. The England Bid team must feel like a suspect in a trial, watching helplessly as the prosecuting barrister says something inappropriate which the judge has to ask the jury to strike from their memories. Once a cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to get it back in.

World Cup 2018 – 12 days to decision

The fallout from the Sunday Times story and the resulting FIFA action in banning a number of Committee members just won’t go away. Sepp Blatter has felt the need to say that he believes the England 2018 World Cup Bid will not be damaged in the wake of the expose by the Sunday Times. However, it seemed a less than reassuring statement. Blatter said that he didn’t believe the Executive Committee would be influenced by the revelations.

This didn’t appear to entirely ring true though as Blatter expressed his unhappiness with the entrapment method used, declaring it unfair, despite the fact that it gave FIFA an opportunity to root out corruption. The most worrying fact for the England 2018 Bid is that FIFA President Blatter acknowledged that the bans had not gone down well with everyone within the organisation in stating that the decisions “…may not have found total support of all the members of the executive committee, it would be exaggerated to pretend that…”

England’s Bid totally unaffected? Mr Blatter it doesn’t sound quite that way to me….

World Cup 2018 – 13 days to decision

The Sunday Times will feel fully justified in their recent expose of the votes for cash story, as the FIFA Ethics Committee banned Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii. Both men will not be able to vote on 02 December in relation to the 2018 and 2022 hosting ballots. Adamu is banned from football activity for three years and fined £6,300. Temarii was handed a one year ban and fined £3,150. There were also bans handed out to the following former Executive Committee members; Ismael Bhamjee (Botswana) four years, Amadou Diakite (Mali) and Ahongalu Fusimalohi (Tonga) three years and Slim Aloulou (Tunisia) two years. In addition they were each fined £6,300 for having broken rules on general conduct and loyalty and of failing to report evidence of misconduct in relation to the case.

The Ethics Committee also looked at reported collusion between the 2018 Spain/Portugal Bid and the 2022 Bid of Qatar, but found no evidence to substantiate these claims. However, FIFA must now be regretting their decision to announce the host countries for two World Cups at once. FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke admitted as much when he intimated that there was very little that could be done to stop countries striking deals between themselves. 

As a result of FIFA’s decisions this week, the ballot will proceed on 02 December with the previous 24 votes now reduced to 22 and therefore the number of votes needed to win is now 12. Despite the good feedback in the Executive Summary this week on the England 2018 Bid, the reality is that the chances of winning the vote are set to be threatened once more. The BBC will screen a Panorama investigation into FIFA just three days before voting in Zurich, which is sure to alienate the FIFA Executives once more. How ironic that the final nail in the coffin of the England Bid could be delivered from within the country itself.

World Cup 2018 – 14 days to decision

All the bidding countries were in action last night in friendly internationals, with some fairing better than others. England had an inexperienced looking line-up and were beaten by France who were technically and tactically better than Fabio Capello’s team. Kerim Benzema put the visitors ahead in the first half and the lead was doubled with a goal ten minutes into the second half from Mathieu Valbuena. England got late consolation goal from substitute Peter Crouch. However, in truth this was more than they deserved.

In Amsterdam, Netherlands took on Turkey, where a second half strike from Klaas Jan Huntelaar, clinched a 1-0 win for the Dutch. Netherlands bid partners Belgium travelled to bidding rival Russia. Emerging Anderlecht forward Romelu Lukaku was the two goal hero for the Belgians as they left Voronezh with a deserved 2-0 win.

Meanwhile joint bidders Portugal and Spain faced each other in Lisbon. The World Cup winners were demolished by their Iberian partners with goals from Jorge Carlos Martins, Helder Postiga, Sergio Ramos (own goal) and Hugo Almeida as Portugal swept to a 4-0 win.

World Cup 2018 – 15 days to decision

Fancy a flutter? England to be successful and get the nod from FIFA to host the 2018 World Cup? The wonderfully whiter than white moral guardians that are the English media in the guise of the Sunday Times and the BBC, have done their best to undermine the bid. The Sunday Times through an undercover sting, exposed two executive committee members, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, who it is alleged were willing to offer their World Cup votes in return for money for football projects. The two men concerned deny the charges and face a FIFA Ethics Committee hearing this week into the newspaper’s claims. The BBC (in its wisdom) has decided to screen a Panorama special just 3 days before the FIFA awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, into the World Governing body.

It has now left the England Bid team having to write to FIFA distancing themselves from corruption allegations made against football’s world governing body by the British media. The fact is that in a country where there is free speech, then everyone is entitled to their opinion and speak out. The Sunday Times and the BBC would argue that they are merely expressing that right and looking to help FIFA by exposing corruption. However, do these organisations think they will wipe out corruption through what they have done? What happened to investigative journalism? Can stories only be obtained through deceit, or as the Qatar 2022 Committee Member said by “…washing dirty linen, with dirty water…”.

However, the England Bid team will be heartened that Evaluation Reports on the various bids released today, were at least positive on the English proposals. The report released is only an Executive Summary of the full report which is used as part of the decision process. However, a World Cup in England is viewed as “low risk” and was praised in relation to, transport, stadia, IT, security, marketing, and legacy. There are some issues around venue-specific training sites, venue-specific team hotels and training base camp hotels, which numbers wise don’t currently meet the FIFA requirements. Nevertheless, the England camp are saying that theses areas of concern are already in-hand and being discussion with FIFA in terms of resolution.

Of the other Bids, the joint Spain/Portugal bid and that of Russia, are also given a low risk rating, whilst the joint bid from Netherlands/Belgium has received a medium risk assessment.

The England Bid needs all the support it can get right now. Therefore, it is hoped the media in this country are as vigorous with the positive news about the Executive reports as they were negative in the feeding frenzy of the Sunday Times story.