FIFA begins inspection visit Down Under
A FIFA delegation began a three-day visit to Australia on Monday to inspect stadiums and other facilities for the country's 2022 World Cup bid.
The inspection team from football's world governing body includes six delegates led by Chilean Football Federation President Harold Mayne-Nicholls. Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the organizing committee for the recently concluded World Cup in South Africa, is also part of the delegation.
Australia, the third stop on tour of the nine countries which are bidding to host the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, was cleared last week by FIFA of wrongdoing.
FIFA said it reviewed allegations that expensive gifts were provided to some FIFA Congress delegates in May 2008 - eight months before official campaigning began - but decided there were ''no grounds to open a formal case.''
Although it considered the matter closed, FIFA reminded Australia's soccer federation about bidding rules.
FIFA started investigating last month after Melbourne's The Age newspaper reported some FIFA executive members were given jewelry and offered travel expenses.
On Monday, the FIFA team was treated to a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony welcome on the Sydney Opera house forecourt. They were joined by FFA chairman Frank Lowy and Federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis before hearing their first briefing from the Australian bid team.
''For us it is a real pleasure to be here in your beautiful country and we are sure that during this stay we will learn a lot about your people, your bid book and your ability to hold big events,'' Mayne-Nicholls said.
''We hope also that you will be in a position to ask us all the questions you need to resolve before we write the final report ...'' Mayne-Nicholls was quoted as telling the Australian organizers.
Cathy Freeman, the 2000 Olympic 400-meter champion, met with the FIFA delegation at the former Olympic stadium, where she won gold just days after lighting the Olympic cauldron.
''We have such a strong sporting culture in Australia and the support I got that night was amazing,'' Freeman said. ''I could feel them willing me on and I just rode the wave.''
''We have a great record in holding major events and if we get a FIFA World Cup we would do a great job.''
Ten Australian host cities have been selected in six states and territories. New stadiums will be built in Perth, Canberra and Blacktown in western Sydney and nine others upgraded should the bid be successful, FFA said in a statement.
At the end of the inspection tour, the delegation will submit a report to assist FIFA's 24 executive members select a host for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, which will be announced by FIFA on Dec. 2 in Zurich.
Australia is competing with bids from South Korea and Japan, which co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, Qatar, Japan and the United States for the 2022 World Cup.
The U.S. is also in the contest for 2018, which is expected to be awarded to one of four European bids: England, Russia, and the joint bids of Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium.