FA fears that Panorama could de-rail 2018 bid

With the FIFA inspection team barely off the tarmac to leave England and visit the next 2018/2022 World Cup bidder, so allegations of corruption within football’s world governing body begin to emerge which the FA fears may derail the bid.

Former SJA member Charlie Sale reports today that “The England 2018 team will be doing all they can to prevent a proposed BBC Panorama documentary on the World Cup bidding process being broadcast before the December 2 vote.”

The programme could focus on the bid from Russia, England’s main rivals for 2018.

“Such is the concern within England’s 2018 campaign at the potential for derailing their chances of hosting the World Cup that they are prepared to go all the way to BBC director general Mark Thompson to stop the project,” writes Sale, who this week was named as only 10th among the country’s sports writers in a magazine poll.

“The worry is a documentary devised and produced in England exposing rivals’ activities could alienate the FIFA ExCo voters against the country’s bid, especially if it doesn’t score a knock-out blow.”

Panorama has a good track record in exposing sports corruption stories that often by-pass the sports pages. In 2004, Panorama revealed Bulgarian IOC member Ivan Slavkov accepting bribes for voting for London’s Olympic bid. Slavkov was kicked off the IOC, and a year later London’s 2012 bid won the IOC vote.

In football, it was a Panorama programme examining the role of agents in football that saw Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce and Sir Alex Ferguson refuse to give interviews to BBC Sport. Sir Alex’s boycott of the Beeb continues to this day, although no legal action has ever been taken against the programme-makers.

And FIFA has been a fruitful source of Panoramas for reporter Andrew Jennings, who has twice delved into the business interests of Jack Warner, the senior FIFA executive committee member.

Warner, from Trinidad but influential over a decisive handful of the 24 FIFA executive committee votes, developed a strong antipathy towards England off the back of the Jennings programmes, accusing the journalist of racism. Warner made a show of rejecting England 2018’s gifts of expensive designer handbags for ExCo members’ wives, as if to demonstrate that he could not be “bought”.

Warner has already been issued with one FIFA warning as to his future conduct over the sale of World Cup tickets in 2006.

But given Thompson’s and the BBC’s usual position on the Corporation’s journalistic integrity, any attempt by FA officials to get them to “pull” the programme is likely to be given short shrift.

Corruption allegations continue to swirl around senior FIFA figures, with one ExCo member being accused of profiting from illicit trading in World Cup tickets.

“As a general principle, Fifa does not comment on media allegations,” said an unnamed FIFA spokesman told today’s Guardian.

The last time that corruption allegations were made against FIFA officials, Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President who was implicated in several of them, set up an ethics commission under Sebastian Coe.

Lord Coe eventually stood down from the position, citing weight of other work in heading London’s 2012 organising committee, having failed to consider a single allegation of impropriety in his time working for FIFA.