WORLD CUP: BIDDERS IN LAST MINUTE LOBBY
The frenzied race for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups entered the home straight on Wednesday as rival bids prepared to make final presentations on the eve of the scandal-tainted election.
The five countries battling for the 2022 football extravaganza - Australia, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Qatar - were to showcase their bids in 30-minute pitches to voters at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
High-powered delegations from the countries slugging it out for the 2018 tournament, meanwhile were engaging in frantic last-ditch lobbying before making their presentations on today.
Russia has emerged as the bookmakers' favourite in the final days before the vote, pulling clear of England and a joint bid from Spain and Portugal. A Dutch-Belgian bid is regarded as a long-odds outsider.
However, England is pulling out all the stops with Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne, Prince William, and football icon, David Beckham, networking relentlessly with FIFA delegates.
Cameron met FIFA's President, Sepp Blatter, on Tuesday before holding talks late into the night with five other members of the 22-strong executive committee, which will vote in today's ballot. The British leader was to fly back to London from Zurich to participate in Prime Minister's questions in the Parliament before jetting back to Switzerland later on Wednesday to resume campaigning.
English hopes have been rocked by several media reports, alleging corruption within FIFA which is expected to trigger a backlash among voters. A Sunday Times investigation snared two FIFA members apparently offering to sell their votes in exchange for cash. Both officials were later suspended by FIFA and will not participate in the vote. On Monday, BBC documentary, Panorama accused three more FIFA executive committee members of involvement in a decade-old corruption scandal.
A fourth FIFA member, Trinidadian official, Jack Warner, seen as a key figure for English hopes, was accused by the programme of trying to sell World Cup tickets on the black market. However, Warner, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) Federation, had warm words for the English campaign following his meeting with Cameron.
“The British Prime Minister understands the importance and power of football,” Warner said. “He reiterated his government's commitment to the World Cup and spoke extensively about England's legacy programme.
“Over the last decade England has supported not only Concacaf but all federations in their development activities and I must commend the Prime Minister and the FA for that.”
While England's lobbying effort is being spearheaded by Cameron, it remained unclear whether Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would arrive in Zurich for the final hours of campaigning. Fifa's executive committee will cast votes in a series of ballots starting at 2pm local time on Thursday (3pm SA, CAT, GMT+2) until one bid has received an absolute majority. Blatter has admitted that the decision to stage the votes for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments at the same time was a mistake, raising the probability of collusion between bidders.