Countries looking to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups made their final attempts to convince soccer’s governing body to award them the world’s most-watched sporting event when it votes today.
England is using ex-national team captain David Beckham and Prince William to back its bid for 2018, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided it was best to stay away. The U.S., going for 2022, featured ex-President Bill Clinton and actor Morgan Freeman, while Australia flew in model Elle Macpherson.
The 2018 bidders, England, Russia, and joint offers from Spain-Portugal and Holland-Belgium, made last presentations to FIFA today, a day after the 2022 candidates, the U.S., Qatar, Australia, South Korea and Japan. Hosting the tournament is worth about $5 billion, according to American estimates. While celebrities and politicians are trying to win support on the 22- man voting panel, being a second choice may be as important, U.K. Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said.
“It’s much easier to persuade people” to make a bid their second or third choice, Robertson said. “If you get your lobbying right over the three days beforehand, and you get your presentation right, then you have a genuine chance of moving those second and third preference votes. That’s going to be the key to winning.”
Russia, England, Qatar Favored
The panel is now meeting to vote and will eliminate the lowest contender in each contest until there’s a bid with a majority. The winners will be announced around 4 p.m. local time at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
According to U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc, England has drawn even with Russia as favorites for 2018, at odds of 6-5, followed by Portugal-Spain at 4-1 and Holland-Belgium at 40-1. That means a successful $5 bet on Russia or England would bring in $6 plus the original stake.
“Almost all of the bets staked on Wednesday -- over 90 percent of them -- were for England,” Hill’s Graham Sharpe said.
For 2022, Qatar is favored, at 4-6, with the U.S. and Australia both on odds of 5-2. Japan is 33-1 at William Hill, and South Korea is 40-1.
Sebastian Coe, who sits on England’s board, was in charge of London’s efforts to secure the 2012 Olympics. He said the city was considered an outsider before then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and Beckham won over the International Olympic Committee in Singapore in 2005. Prince William and the former Manchester United player can do the same in Switzerland, he said.
“I think it can happen here,” Coe told reporters. “A really strong presentation with really clear messages and some emotional appeal can make a difference.”
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, Beckham and Prince William led England’s presentation hours after finishing late- night talks with several FIFA voters.
Cameron said the U.K. would launch a soccer development fund that would match FIFA’s $150 million a year spend and benefit a billion people around the world.
“Each of you has the chance to create opportunities in each of your countries, in every confederation, in every corner of the world,” Beckham told the voters.
The Emir of Qatar and the prime ministers of South Korea, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium have also flown to Zurich to push their country’s bids.
While Putin hasn’t attended the vote, his deputy Igor Shuvalov said Russia deserved to host the tournament, adding that it would “help us overcome all the tragic days and tragic history of the last century we have suffered.”
The decision about where to take the event has been marred by a corruption probe that led to the suspension of two voters and allegations of rule-breaching vote-sharing agreements. The Times of London and the British Broadcasting Corp. featured stories on alleged misdeeds by voters, and Russia’s Putin said the committee is being ‘smeared.’’
“There is an attempt to discredit them,” Putin said yesterday. ‘Such methods of competing are unacceptable.’’
Today Angel Maria Villar Llona, head of Spain’s soccer federation, told colleagues on FIFA’s executive committee they were victims of media “slander.”
“You’ve already heard enough slander in the media. This bidding process is clean, regardless of what they say. We hoped you liked our bid proposals,” he said in closing remarks for his nation’s joint bid with Portugal.
Clinton in Talks
Clinton, who concluded the U.S.’s final presentation yesterday, held individual meetings with several bidders at a suite in the city center hotel where some FIFA officials are staying.
Chuck Blazer, the U.S. soccer official on the committee, said the final days and hours of lobbying by world leaders can be crucial. He’s backing his country for 2022 but hasn’t revealed his vote for 2018.
“For most people who’ve already made their case, they want to make sure they don’t do anything wrong, and at the same time you want to solidify and enhance the positions you already made and to convince those you haven’t been able to convince before,” Blazer said in an interview. “That puts an awful lot of importance in that week, doesn’t it?”
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