Sunday Times

With the vote looming large too many twists and turns have harmed England’s campaign

England’s 2018 problem is not the British press but the policy twists and turns that have seen the World Cup bid reinvent itself three times since it was launched. This has left the 2018 team on the back foot, a position that, even insiders concede, makes a win difficult.

It was meant to be so different when, in 2007, Stewart Wood, an adviser to the prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown, met Peter Hargitay. The Hungarian had been an adviser to Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter, and with a former Fifa head of communications, Markus Seigler, advised bidders. At their London meeting, Wood discussed how the team of Hargitay and Seigler could give an inside track to Fifa. This was the lesson England had learnt from the failed 2006 World Cup bid, when they were eliminated in round two with just two votes. Then, seven of the eight European executive members alleged that England had a gentlemen’s agreement to back Germany and not enter the race. Thus, in the 24-member Fifa executive, England had always started 0-7 down.

The FA board approved a strategy that the driving force for the bid be David Gill of Manchester United, Peter Kenyon of Chelsea and David Dein of Arsenal, all assisting Geoff Thompson, then the FA chairman.

But, within months, the bid suffered its first big U-turn when Lord Triesman became the FA’s first independent chairman. He asked Hargitay and Seigler to reapply for their jobs. Hargitay left to advise Australia and Seigler went to work for Russia, one of England’s main rivals. Thompson was sidelined.

The Labour peer’s new strategy was to cultivate Michel Platini, the Uefa president. The Frenchman was worried that, with England, Russia, Spain and Portugal, and Belgium and Netherlands in the fray, the European vote would be split and 2018 would go to a non-European bidder. They discussed a plan where Platini would throw his weight behind England for 2018 and let 2022 go to America. All this soon became academic as the bid veered off course again. Triesman resigned after it was alleged that, in a private conversation, he had said Spain might withdraw its 2018 bid in favour of Russia if the Russians helped to bribe 2010 World Cup referees.

Since then, the reorganised bid team, led again by Thompson and with Dein acting as international president, has sought the four African votes on the Fifa executive. They are crucial for England to survive the first round. Dein vigorously courted the Africans and, in particular, the Nigerian member, Amos Adamu. The bid hoped it could get all the African votes and, with possibly three votes from Europe, England would sail through the first round. Then, in the subsequent rounds, second-preference votes from the beaten bids could see England to victory.

However, Adamu’s vote was far from secured. When Sunday Times undercover reporters first met him, he had returned from Russia, which he said had offered “co-operation” in building facilities and providing training for players. The Russian bid later denied this.

In the second meeting with reporters in Cairo, Adamu said he had already pledged his vote for 2022 to another bidder, but was open to offers on 2018. Adamu has now lost his vote after the Sunday Times disclosures.

England’s hopes of securing all the African votes were further dented by allegations that a second member might be voting for the Spain and Portugal bid as part of its alleged alliance with Qatar, a 2022 bidder. Although Fifa’s ethics committee found insufficient evidence to prove the collusion, it was a further worry for England’s bid.

Having started the bidding aiming to be on Fifa’s inside track, England go to Zurich next month with work to do, but hoping that they could, possibly, spring a surprise.


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