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Wednesday, March 11, 1998 Published at 19:50 GMT

Sport: Football

Fifa chief backs England 2006
image: [ Tony Blair met Fifa president Joao Havelange at Downing Street ]
Tony Blair met Fifa president Joao Havelange at Downing Street

The president of football's international governing body has given his personal backing to England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

Fifa President Dr Joao Havelange speaking through an interpreter (0'40")
The surprise endorsement came on the steps of Downing Street after a meeting with the Prime Minister Tony Blair and Sports Minister Tony Banks.

Speaking through an interpreter, Dr Joao Havelange, said: "It's the personal wish of President Havelange that ... it will be decided that the World Cup 2006 will indeed take place here in England."

Dr Havelange is retiring from the Fifa presidency in June but he is still one of the most influential figures in world football and his support will be a massive boost to England's 2006 campaign.

[ image: Tony Banks:
Tony Banks: "Very encouraged"
The Fifa president, a Brazillian, said: "The decision of where the 2006 World Cup will be held will be taken by the Fifa executive committee in June of the year 2000."

Downing Street admitted that the president's backing so far ahead of the final decision day had taken them by surprise.

Tony Banks: Pleased at Dr Havelange's high profile support (0'22")
Mr Banks, who joked he had not understood a word at the Downing Street meeting because it was carried out in French, said: "We must be very, very encouraged by the endorsement we have received."

The support was also warmly welcomed by Football Association Chief Executive Graham Kelly.

FA chief executive Graham Kelly: "We're delighted" (0'48")
Mr Kelly said: "President Havelange is a very stong man in world football. He has influence and it is very welcome to have our application so warmly received by him."

The prime minister's official spokesman said that Mr Blair had told Dr Havelange that the last time the World Cup was held in England, 1966, it had been a tremendous event.

"It was one of the most memorable World Cups," Mr Blair said. The prime minister had also stressed the success of the Euro 96 European Championships.

Mr Blair told Dr Havelange that the government was "completely behind this bid" and said that England had the energy to it through.

He stressed how important bringing the World Cup home was to the country.

Germany and England are both competing to be Europe's bid for the 2006 World Cup. Other countries likely to be in the running include South Africa.

The Germans insist a gentleman's agreement allowed England to host Euro 96 in return for Germany being Europe's only bidder for the 2006 World Cup.


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