England’s representative on soccer’s governing body said the country’s elimination in the first round of voting yesterday for the host of the 2018 World Cup may have been down to a backlash against the U.K. media.
England received just two votes from FIFA’s 22-member executive committee, including that of Englishman Geoff Thompson. Russia, the eventual winner, got nine in the first round, five more than the joint bid of Netherlands/Belgium. The joint effort from Spain/Portugal had seven.
The award of the world’s most watched sporting event was marred by FIFA’s suspension of two executive members last month after the Sunday Times published a story alleging Nigerian Amos Adamu and Tahiti’s Reynald Temarii had offered to sell their votes. Earlier this week, the British Broadcasting Corp. made fresh corruption allegations against voters.
“Regrettably it’s outside sources that don’t help,” Thompson said in an interview after the announcement at the Messe Zurich convention center.
When asked if he meant the U.K. media had damaged the country’s chances, he added: “Certainly in the minds of certain colleagues yes.”
While a FIFA probe found enough evidence to suspend Adamu and Temarii, it said issues raised by the BBC program, which included allegations of bribery, were investigated by Swiss authorities and were “definitely closed.”
BBC Executive Editor Clive Edwards told Radio 4’s Today program this week that the broadcast was justified to report the allegations because “it is in everyone’s interest that there should be a fair process.”
Russia reached the majority needed to host the tournament in the second ballot by receiving 13 votes, with Spain/Portugal getting seven and the Netherlands/Belgium receiving two. Qatar won the 2022 event, ahead of the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Australia.
“England has full facilities and they could hold the World Cup anytime,” Junji Ogura, the Japanese representative on the FIFA board, told reporters yesterday. “I think England’s media reporting affected FIFA executive committee members.”
‘Stupid and Naive’
Marios Lefkaritis, a voter from Cyprus, said the media had a big hand in England’s failure.
“In the beginning I thought not, but after the experience I got from other members yesterday, then I have to say definitely yes,” he said in an interview today. “If the (England bid team) think they did not, then they are stupid and naive.”
England, which was also knocked out in the first round in the bidding for the 2006 World Cup, struggled to recover from several missteps since announcing its intention to go for the tournament about two years ago.
Last November it changed its board after criticism that it was too large. In May, Football Association Chairman David Triesman, who also chaired the bid, quit after making allegations of a pact between Qatar and Spain/Portugal. The most recent problems centered around the media reports, which led to FIFA President Sepp Blatter questioning the news-gathering approach of the British press.
Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham went to Zurich this week to support the bid. They conducted several meetings with FIFA officials late into the night, leading to renewed optimism the country could bring the tournament back to England after a 44-year wait.
“We did everything we thought we could,” England bid CEO Andy Anson said in an interview.
Lefkaritis said voters weren’t swayed by the dignitaries brought in by bidders.
“They don’t wait until the last minute to make their decisions,” he said. “I don’t think there’s even one who comes to Zurich two days before and waits for the Emir, Price William and (former U.S. President) Clinton to change his mind.”
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin scrapped a plan to attend the vote, saying he didn’t want to add “external pressure” on voters rattled by the furor created by the media allegations.
“It was like a conclave for the new Pope,” Belgian member Michel D’Hooghe said of the vote. “It was intense.”
England and the U.S., which was eliminated in a final-round run-off with Qatar, were given high scores by technical and economic reports made for FIFA. Russia had the lowest marks of the 2018 contenders and Qatar, which needs to build 12 stadiums and pledged to spend $50 billion to ready itself for the tournament, was the only bidder given a “high risk” rating. Qatar, with a population of 1.7 million, will be the smallest and hottest country ever to host the tournament that started in 1930.
“Until we survey all the people and find out what was their motivation it’s hard to say whether it’s politics or the reports,” said Chuck Blazer, the U.S. voter on the FIFA panel.
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