Putin opts out of helping Russia's World Cup bid

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

ZURICH — With Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulling out of helping Russia's 2018 World Cup bid, Wednesday's frantic last day of politicking was left to other leaders, princes, actors and models to work their charm on the 22 voters.

Putin's withdrawal and allegation that the bidding process had turned into an "unfair competition" following scandals targeting FIFA dented Russia's stature as a favorite to host the event.

England continued to lead the sporting diplomacy, with Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham seeking to sway FIFA's executive committee for their 2018 bid.

The Spain-Portugal bid again kept its lobbying behind closed doors, but heard Wednesday it will not be able to count on the injured Cristiano Ronaldo in its buildup to the 2018 World Cup vote. Real Madrid said the Portugal winger needs to recover for Saturday's match against Valencia.

The Belgium-Netherlands bid, considered the outsider for 2018, was hoping to be boosted by the arrival of Johan Cruijff.

Ahead of Thursday's 2018 presentation and vote, the five 2022 candidates — the United States, Qatar, Australia, Japan and South Korea — made to make their final presentations to the executive committee Wednesday.

For the United States, it brought a video message from President Barack Obama and a botched presentation from Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who missed a page from his script. Australia lined up all the elegance of superstar model Elle Macpherson to offset their funky presentation.

Putin's unexpected no-show was exactly the last-minute drama that could overturn months of preparations and planning that go into getting the right to host the globe's biggest single-sport event.

Putin made a high-profile trip to Guatemala in 2007 to help secure the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi, having announced that trip more than a week in advance. This time, his no-show came only a day ahead of the vote.

Putin said Wednesday he would not go to FIFA headquarters to exert even more pressure on the voters after the corruption allegations of the past weeks. And he called on other international leaders to do likewise.

"As are all fair-minded people, I am very disappointed about the recent allegations against certain FIFA executive committee members," Putin said. "I view that as unfair competition."

Recently, a British newspaper sting led to the expulsion of two FIFA executive committee members and a BBC documentary accused others of taking secret payments.

Putin's absence would likely affect the balance of votes between the four candidates for the 2018 tournament.

Beckham has been lobbying since his arrival on Tuesday and has met with several executive committee members.

"I've known how important it is to keep fighting to the last minute," said Beckham, the former England captain who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Earlier, Prince William worked his charm during his pre-dawn breakfast to make England's case. And even British Prime Minister David Cameron put himself into shuttle diplomacy, flying in between Zurich and London to mix parliamentary politics with high-profile lobbying.

And after the BBC had raised corruption allegations early this week that were seen as potentially harmful to the bid, another icon of the British media pleaded with FIFA to ignore it.

The Sun tabloid had a huge picture of the World Cup trophy alongside an "Open Letter to the 2018 World Cup Committee."

"Dear FIFA, The BBC may have given you the false impression that the people of England do not wish to host the World Cup," the ad read before going to say the whole nation backed the bid.

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