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Last Updated: Friday, 18 November 2005, 14:03 GMT
World Cup wonder
By Tom Fordyce

On Friday, the government announced that they were launching a feasibility study into the possibility of England bidding to host the 2018 World Cup.

The World Cup trophy

Cue an explosion of headlines about the World Cup coming back to British shores for the first time since 1966.

But what does the announcement actually mean - and is there really a genuine chance that England could host the World Cup?

Is this the start of a proper bid?

No. This is merely the first discussion as to whether a bid might be worthwhile.

The feasibility study is an initiative from the Treasury and Department of Media, Culture and Sport which will look into four keys areas:

  • whether the country can afford to bid
  • whether England could deliver a successful tournament
  • whether there would be a positive legacy left afterwards
  • whether England actually has a chance of being awarded the World Cup by Fifa

Why is it the government and not the FA making this announcement?

Officially it is because a bid must have full government approval to have a genuine chance of succeeding.

But it is also true that hosting the World Cup would be a huge political coup for any Government.

Westminster insiders say the impetus is coming from the Treasury because Chancellor Gordon Brown - who hopes to succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister - wants to leave his own high-profile sporting legacy.

Blair delivered the London Olympics. Brown wants to deliver England's World Cup.

Who will decide if England bid?

Ultimately, the FA. The FA is the organisation which must go to Fifa and officially apply to host the tournament. But it will not make a bid unless certain of full backing from the Government.

It shouldn't make much difference if Labour are ousted from power by the Conservatives, either - shadow minister for sport, Hugh Robertson, says: "I entirely support the campaign to bring the 2018 World Cup to England. It is an entirely logical follow-up to hosting the 2012 Olympics."

What will be the deciding factors?

The study will ask whether England has the stadia, transport infrastructure and hotel capacity to host the World Cup.

But the key factor is winnability.

The government had its fingers badly burned by the failed bid for the 2006 World Cup, when a significant cash outlay and the backing of Tony Blair did nothing to prevent Germany being awarded hosting rights.

A gentleman's deal had already been done between the German and English FAs that England would support Germany's bid for 2006 in return for being backed to host the 1996 European Championships.

Unless there is a genuine chance that Fifa would award the tournament to England, there will be no Government backing - and therefore no FA bid.

Will the fact that London is hosting the 2012 Olympics make a difference?

A successfully-delivered Olympics would prove that England is capable of hosting the biggest events in global sport.

On a practical level, the new Wembley stadium will be completed next year, and London's transport overhauled.

There is an argument that says Fifa would be reluctant to be seen as giving too much to one nation too soon.

But Fifa and the International Olympic Committee are completely separate bodies - and in any case, historical precedent would be in England's favour.

Germany hosted the 1974 World Cup, two years after Munich held the Olympics, and Atlanta staged the 1996 Games two years after USA '94.

What chance do England have of being successful if they do bid?

With so long before any official decisions, it's impossible to be certain.

In England's favour, Fifa's policy of rotating the World Cup around the major continents could see the 2018 tournament back in Europe.

South Africa are hosting in 2010, with a South American country - possibly Brazil - favourites for 2014.

In theory, that makes 2018 Europe's turn. And all the other major European football nations have held a World Cup since England's last turn - Germany in 1974 and 2006, Spain in 1982, Italy in 1990 and France in 1998.

In a dream scenario for the FA, that could leave an English bid unopposed in both Uefa and Fifa.

But Fifa's rotation idea is not set in law. Sepp Blatter has admitted that it was only ever really brought in as a way of ensuring that Africa got to host a World Cup.

By 2018, the claims of China and various countries in the Middle East and Oceania - not least Australia - will only have grown.

What is the timetable for any bid?

The feasibility study has no set date by which to report, but is expected to be concluded by the summer of 2006.

If the outcome is positive, the FA may announce their intention to bid by the autumn of 2006.

Even then, any real decisions are still a long way off.

Fifa would not decide on the hosts until 2010, so the bid would not gather any momentum until 2008 at the very earliest.



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