The BBC is suffering a national backlash after its decision to broadcast a controversial Panorama programme about alleged Fifa corruption, just three days ahead of the crucial vote to decide if England will host the 2018 World Cup.
However, it is expected the England 2018 bid team will have breathed a sigh of relief following the BBC documentary, which has been widely criticised as “a breathless publicity stunt” and containing nothing but corruption allegations that are two decades old.
The England 2018 bid team issued a statement saying: “The BBC’s Panorama did nothing more than rake over a series of historical allegations none of which are relevant to the current bidding process.
“It should be seen as an embarrassment to the BBC.”
Critics of the BBC’s decision to screen the programme have said the allegations were not linked to World Cup votes and all relate to payments made between 21 and 11 years ago by the now defunct sports marketing company ISL.
Prime minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham are attending Fifa’s HQ in Zurich to make a final pitch for the England bid ahead of the decision on Thursday.
Among the allegations, Panorama accused Fifa vice-president Jack Warner of seeking to buy World Cup tickets to pass on to touts – although the programme conceded he did not actually do so.
Asked about his reaction to the programme, Warner told the Press Association: “I really have no interest in this matter… now or ever.”
Panorama accused three other Fifa officials of taking bribes in the 1980s – African confederation president Issa Hayatou, whose vote England 2018 held high hopes of winning, Brazil’s Ricardo Terra Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay.
The claims were first made public in 2001.
The BBC has today defended its decision to air the programme and the timing, saying the investigation was in the public interest.
A spokesman said: “The programme is in the public interest and shows that some FIFA executives involved in making decisions about the 2018 bid have a history of taking bribes – and that FIFA has consistently failed to act.”
“Delay until after the bid was not an option once it became clear that the winning nations might have been chosen by officials with a proven track record of corruption.”
England are up against Russia, Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium for the right to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with Australia, Japan, USA, South Korea and Qatar bidding for 2022.
Andy Anson, head of the England 2018 World Cup bid team, accused the BBC of being “unpatriotic” and “sensationalist” last week following BBC director-general Mark Thompson’s decision to ignore his pleas not to air the programme.
Uefa president Michel Platini yesterday claimed England’s 2018 bid would not be directly affected by the Panorama programme.
He warned, however, the British media’s tense relationship with Fifa could jeopardise England’s chances of success.
“I don’t think this (programme) will have an effect, no - but I think what may affect the decision is the atmosphere going back a long time and what people have been writing about Fifa in the British press for many years,” he concluded.