Prince Wills and Cameron push England World Cup bid
Are all the fish sold?
Fifa's suits have gathered in Zurich to vote on the hosts of the 2018 World Cup later on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham flew into Switzerland to pitch the benefits of bringing football's greatest tournament back home to the country that invented the game.
England's presentation kicked off to the soundtrack of Elbow's One Day Like This and featured the dubious assertion that the country, whose rail network is right in the middle of snow-based disruption, has a world-class transport infrastructure.
Football bosses will have to make a decision between hosting the world's greatest sporting event in either Russia, England, Spain / Portugal (joint bid) or Belgium / the Netherlands (long-shot second joint bid) with voting due to take place at lunchtime and the result announced at 3pm (GMT).
The 22-person Fifa executive board will also consider the rival candidates for the 2022 tournament: USA, Australia and Qatar (yes, football indoors in the desert, in June).
Not to be outdone by England in the celebrity stakes, these bidders have brought along the likes of Morgan Freeman and Elle McPherson. "Nice to see it's football/infrastructure issues that decide who holds World Cup," the Guardian's cult Spanish Football columnist Sid Lowe wryly noted.
Not everyone who might have attended showed up. Russian prime minister Vladimir "Dobby" Putin didn't feel his presence was required. Russia had been favourites over recent weeks, and are rumoured to have secured the casting vote of Fifa uber-boss Sepp Blatter if the vote ends in a tie.
But England overtook them as the punter's pick on Thursday morning. England are around even money on BetFair, with Russia second favourites at around 2-1. The Spain / Portugal joint bid comes in at around 5-1 and looks to be the value in the betting market because it has a solid opening base and is the bid most likely to pick up vital second-preference votes.
Around £500,000 has been staked on the outcome of the vote on BetFair alone, which sounds a lot until you consider its about the same amount already wagered on the outcome of reality TV's I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and a fair bit less than the £700,000 riding on the outcome of the Europa League game between Steaua Bucharest and Liverpool later tonight.
Each of the bids has its pluses. England has passionate fans, and hasn't had the tournament for over 40 years, but it suffers from transport and accommodation concerns. Russia offers the opportunity to take football to a new country but suffers from logistical problems that come from staging the event in such a vast nation, where inter-city transport is mediocre. Fifa's technical team also raised concerns about whether the country would be able to build many new stadia in time. The infrastructure to run an excellent World Cup is already in place in Spain and Portugal (Nou Camp, Bernibeau etc), so there's no problem there. However, the economy in the Iberian peninsular is royally screwed. The Dutch have passionate fans and Johan Cruyff on their side but not much else, in footballing terms at least.
The World Cup bidding process has enjoyed its share of controversy over recent weeks. Alexei Sorokin, director of Russia's bid, broke bid rules by rubbishing London's "high crime rate" and drunken youth problems. An investigation by The Sunday Times ruffled feathers when it produced video evidence that two members of Fifa's executive committee were willing to accept bribes in exchange for support of the 2022 US World Cup bid to reporters posing as lobbyists. Fifa has suspended the duo.
The outcome of the bid opens up possible opportunities for domain name squatters. Whoever wins the announcement is a significant news event, which makes it a candidate for search engine manipulation in order to trick users into visiting scareware portals.
Just the TV and merchandising rights for a World Cup run into hundreds of millions, even before considering the money that will flow in from visiting fans. Staging a World Cup is far more logistically straightforward than running an Olympics, which always involves the building of new stadia and sports facilities.
The winning bidders therefore ought to make money from the event, though the FA's record of over-paying successive managers who fail to deliver does raise questions about its financial competency, among its other well-publicised foibles.
Back in May, for example, FA chair Lord Triesman was obliged to resign after he was taped making accusations that Spanish and Russian authorities might be trying to identify and bribe referees at the 2010 World Cup. The remarks were made during a private conversation at a restaurant while Triesman was flirting with his alleged "mistress", a flame-haired government aide 29 years his junior.
If England wins, then games will be played in London (three stadia), Manchester (two stadia), Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle, among other places. A new stadium would be built in Bristol and Milton Keynes is also likely to score a few games.
Fans of the nation's team will be spared two years of nail-biting through World Cup qualifying games in favour of a succession of meaningless friendlies instead. ®