FIFA begins England WC inspection
FIFA's technical inspectors began a four-day visit scrutinizing England's World Cup bid on Monday by meeting deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and visiting Wembley Stadium.
The six-man delegation arrived in London 101 days before FIFA's executive committee votes to decide the hosts and a week after visiting Russia, which is seen as England's closest rival.
As England's bid officials prepared to welcome the inspectors, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is not part of the tour, declared that while the 1966 hosts presented the "easiest" option, Russia has an undeniable claim to stage the tournament.
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It is widely expected that the 2018 World Cup will go to Europe, which also has joint bids from Belgium and the Netherlands, and Spain and Portugal.
England's bid is centered around the economic benefits for FIFA of bringing the tournament to a country in a favorable time zone with strong infrastructure and world-class stadiums already in place.
Russia was warned last week by Chilean football federation president Harold Mayne-Nicholls, who is leading the inspection tours, that it would have to start work immediately on constructing up to 10 new stadiums from scratch.
"While you are here, you'll see existing facilities available now to stage a first-class FIFA World Cup," England bid chief executive Andy Anson said in Downing Street alongside Mayne-Nicholls. "You'll be able to see them with your own eyes - not just in your imagination.
"The combination of our passion for football, our technical excellence, our hosting experience, our established infrastructure and our commercial strength means that FIFA can be confident that we will deliver operational certainty, financial success and a fantastic tournament."
While England is seen as being at the center of the football world, it believes the legacy of the tournament returning after 52 years is the time and money it invests in helping other countries.
"Just like FIFA, we believe in the power of football to open up new territories," Anson said. "Our new territory extends beyond any national boundary and directly benefits every country."
None of the inspectors visiting London, Manchester, Newcastle and Sunderland this week is a member of the 24-man executive committee that votes in December.
But a poor technical report from the inspectors could derail England's campaign - as happened 10 years ago when the 2006 bid was ranked behind Germany and South Africa in terms of their infrastructure.
"We promise you that we will do our best to have a very objective report," Mayne-Nicholls said.
The only non-European contender for 2018 is the United States, which is also vying for '22 alongside Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar.
"The easiest way to organize the World Cup is to go to England," Blatter told the Inside World Football website. "Everything is there - fans, stadiums, infrastructure - it's easy.
"You cannot deny Russia if they bid for something. They are more than a country. They are a big continent, a big power."