Prince on a mission to save World Cup bid
As a search and rescue pilot, Prince William is used to tough assignments, but on Tuesday he flies into Zurich charged with the nearest thing to Mission Impossible: rescuing England’s World Cup bid.
Mr Cameron will spend two days pressing England’s case, breaking off only to take Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday morning. Beckham, flying in from Australia, where he has been on tour with LA Galaxy, will be joined by past England footballers including Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker.
The vote takes place amid widespread allegations of Fifa corruption, which culminated in the suspension of two senior officials who were covertly filmed asking for money in exchange for their votes.
A BBC Panorama investigation, to be broadcast tomorrow night, will raise new questions over the probity of football’s governing body. Fifa does not take kindly to criticism and England’s bid team unsuccessfully lobbied the BBC to pull the programme.
A senior Swiss prosecutor has told The Sunday Telegraph that Fifa officials had paid £3.5 million in compensation after admitting taking payments from a marketing company.
The compensation was paid to the Swiss authorities earlier this year in return for them abandoning an investigation into the officials’ alleged role in the collapse of ISL, the marketing company that sold the television rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. A secret deal banned the court from revealing the identities of the Fifa officials involved.
The Swiss-based company went bankrupt in 2001 amid allegations of bribery to sports officials to secure contracts, leaving debts of more than £200 million. Swiss prosecutors said £11.5 million was paid to people involved in the negotiation of rights contracts connected to World Cups and the Olympic Games.
The company’s former executives denied charges of fraud, embezzlement, fraudulent bankruptcy, damaging creditors and falsification of documents, for which each defendant faced up to four and a half years in prison. In 2004, Fifa dropped a criminal complaint, saying it would try to recover £80 million it was owed by ISL through civil proceedings.
However, authorities in the Swiss canton of Zug, headed by magistrate Thomas Hildbrand, launched their own criminal investigation into the agency. A 228-page indictment in 2008 named at least two Fifa executive members.
The case led to bitter clashes between Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other senior officials. At the time a Fifa spokesman admitted: "It was a major crisis. Ninety-two per cent of all revenue that Fifa generates comes from the television rights and the marketing rights for the World Cup."
Last week, Mr Hildbrand issued a statement to The Sunday Telegraph, saying that the case was now closed.
The statement read: "In 2000, Fifa benefited from commissions paid by the ISL group. The individual officials who received the payments did not pass the funds on to Fifa and used the assets for their own purposes.
"Fifa also omitted, for its part, from claiming its entitlement to the net assets of the accused. It was damaged to this extent."
None of the defendants was charged with bribery because it was not an offence under Swiss law at the time. All denied criminal responsibility. They claimed the payments were legitimate business expenses, but agreed to pay restitution amounting to £3.5 million and legal costs.
In June this year, Blatter was cleared of any wrongdoing by the prosecutor in Zug. Fifa considers the case to be closed, but it is expected to be a central feature of tomorrow’s Panorama investigation.
Questions about the bribery allegations were put to Mr Blatter in advance of the programme. It is understood that Mr Blatter, who last night was refusing to be interviewed, was asked whether he took bribes from ISL.
The programme will also draw on an undercover newspaper sting earlier this year that led to the suspension of two Fifa executive committee members, Nigeria’s Amos Adamu and Tahiti’s Reynald Temarii. They were suspended after allegations that they asked for money for projects in return for World Cup votes. Fifa officials called the undercover sting "unethical".
Allegations of favours in return for votes are nothing new, as are claims of horse trading among countries bidding to stage the 2018 World Cup and those trying to host it in 2022. Collusion is against the rules. David Dein, the former Arsenal vice-chairman who is the international president of the English bid, said: "What happens behind the scenes, if people are doing deals with each other, how can you influence that, how can you stop that from going on?"
The 2018 World Cup will go to one of the European bidders – England, Netherlands-Belgium, Russia or Spain-Portugal – while the 2022 event is the subject of bids from Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and the United States.The votes are decided by the Fifa executive committee representing all the different global football confederations. Voting takes place round by round until one bid gains a clear majority. Current predictions suggest the Spanish-Portuguese has eight first-round votes in the bag, with the Russians confident of getting seven and England perhaps picking up four.
The Dutch-Belgian bid, likely to attract only three votes, is expected to be eliminated, leaving England chasing its votes to stay in the running. "You’re in the hands of 22 individuals and one’s got to hope we’ve given them enough ammunition to vote for us," said Mr Dein. England’s bid scored highly with Fifa’s technical inspectors, but the relationships between the bidding nations and individual Fifa executive members are often more important.
Whatever the outcome of the World Cup vote, the game’s governing body is facing calls for a clean-up from candidates such as Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, the son of the late King Hussein of Jordan, who is standing for Fifa on an anti-corruption ticket.