England bid hopes for prince’s ‘halo effect’

The fallout from a BBC investigation into FIFA just days before

the host of the 2018 tournament is decided could be offset by the

”halo effect” of Prince William’s planned wedding, England’s

World Cup bid leader said Wednesday.

The BBC Panorama documentary, which is set to be broadcast three

days before FIFA votes on the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups

on Dec. 2, was sharply criticized by bid chief executive Andy

Anson, who called the scheduling unpatriotic.

”I’m incredibly disappointed with the timing of what the BBC is

proposing with Panorama,” Anson said. ”If they truly believe

there’s a journalistic reason for this they could have done it any

time in the last two years. To do it like this is

sensationalism.”

Anson told BBC director-general Mark Thompson during a recent

meeting that the program could damage England’s chances of winning

the right to host the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

”I didn’t ask him for anything but all I said was: ‘Here are

the potential implications,”’ Anson said. ”It’s not very

patriotic of the BBC. They could have done it any time in the last

two years or next two years.”

However, Anson was upbeat about the bid support already given by

the prince and the possible lift from William’s engagement to Kate

Middleton, which was announced Tuesday.

”In the build up to the final vote, he (William) will

definitely have a lobbying role to play,” Anson said. ”The prince

was down in Rome meeting members of UEFA and families at the

Champions League final with 18 months to go. He has been down in

South Africa (at the 2010 World Cup) with his brother. He did a

number of things for us there. He has been involved.”

As for the prince’s interest in the game and the news of his

engagement, Anson said: ”He’s got charisma. He loves his football.

This is fantastic news and if it has a halo effect for our bid,

then all well and good.”

The BBC, meanwhile, defended its decision to broadcast the

program despite England’s bid team claiming that it will rake

”over old issues” already dealt with by the Swiss courts.

”The findings of the Panorama investigation into FIFA will be

in the public interest,” the BBC said in a statement.

Panorama has written to England’s bid and several members of

FIFA’s executive committee asking for their response to questions

the program is expected to pose.

”We know what the letters all ask about,” Anson said. ”The

issues seems to be things dealt with by the Swiss courts and by

FIFA in the past. They’re not happy with someone raking over old

issues but then, no one would be.

”Maybe we’re overreacting. I’m hoping it is an uninteresting

and uninspiring program.”

Anson said he will not be asking Prime Minister David Cameron to

intervene.

”It is not up to the government to stop the program,” Anson

said. ”The government has been unbelievably supportive of the bid.

We have a free media in this country and the BBC can do what they

want.”

In detailed technical reports that have not been publicly

released, FIFA rated England’s bid as ”low risk.” Bid rival

Spain-Portugal was given a similar rating, while Russia and

Belgium-Netherlands are both considered to be ”medium risk.”

England’s World Cup bid team has already written to FIFA’s

executive members asking them not to punish the campaign over

investigations by the British media.

”The feedback we got from them was incredibly supportive,”

Anson said. ”It did not smack of desperation. It was the right

thing to do.”

A Sunday Times investigation into alleged vote-selling has led

to two members of the 24-man committee being suspended.

Anson said the combination of William, Cameron and bid

ambassador David Beckham would be key to the campaign in the final

stages of the FIFA decision.

”The good thing with all these guys is they have been involved

with the process throughout the campaign,” Anson said, adding that

the bid’s task now was ”building that together as a potent

campaigning force in the last few days.”