Boris Johnson (center) is joined by London United leader Simon Greenberg and youngsters for the launch of the city’s bid to become a major host city for 2018 World Cup games (WFI / James Corbett)

(WFI) London Mayor Boris Johnson says it would be “foolish” to rule out the city’s Olympic Stadium being an 80,000-seater football stadium in 10 years time.

His remarks at the launch of London’s bid to become a major host city for England’s 2018 World Cup bid Tuesday indicates a major shift by London 2012 Olympic organizers. Last week, a senior London 2012 official signaled a U-turn on the Olympic Stadium’s future, arguing that the venue should keep its 80,000 seats rather than being reduced to 25,000 in legacy mode.

“The Olympic Stadium adds hugely to the attractions of London,” said Johnson. “London already boasts fantastic – incomparable – sporting facilities. We’re already the leading contender to have the 2018 World Cup and I think the stadium in the Olympic Park is well worth considering as an additional venue.”

Baroness Ford, new head of the Olympic legacy company, said last week that the Olympic Stadium’s inclusion in London’s host city bid for the 2018 World Cup would represent an “iconic offer” by the city.  Ford is also a member of London United, the group of leading London stakeholders and football executives who are delivering its World Cup bid.

When it submits its draft prospectus to the Football Association next week, London United will argue a case for Arsenal’s 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium, Stratford’s Olympic Stadium and Tottenham’s White Hart Lane, which will be redeveloped to seat around 45,000 by 2018.

Mayor Johnson refused to be drawn on how many London stadiums he hoped would be hosting World Cup football in 2018.

“I just know we have fantastic facilities, the best in the world,” he told World Football Insider on the steps of City Hall.

The candidacy of Twickenham, previously mooted as a possible World Cup venue, is currently on hold as Rugby Football Union officials consider the viability of meeting FIFA’s technical requirements. Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge falls below the 40,000 ‘net capacity’ criteria once the requirements of media, officials and VIPs are met.

Chelsea along with Fulham’s Craven Cottage, West Ham’s Boleyn Ground and Charlton’s Valley stadium are expected to be put forward as possible training grounds.

Bid officials are also seeking to utilize some of London’s green spaces as ‘fan parks’. 

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Munich’s 1972 Olympic Park was successfully adapted to host thousands of fans, and bid officials are hoping to borrow from this model and incorporate London’s Olympic Park into their bid.

As well as senior executives from Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, Johnson’s London United team includes David Ross, the millionaire co-founder of Carphone Warehouse. Last December, Ross was forced to resign as Johnson’s envoy on the London Olympics organizing committee in the wake of a damaging shares scandal. 

The London United team is led by Chelsea director of communications, Simon Greenberg. 

“London is committed to providing the most

Sunderland AFC chairman Niall Quinn, pictured here with new manager Steve Bruce, vows to increase the Stadium of Light’s capacity to 60,000 if the city’s bid is successful (Getty Images)

compelling, imaginative and technically superior application,” he said today. “It will provide the ultimate experience for all members of the FIFA football family if we were to host the World Cup in 2018.”

Regional Cities Stake a Claim for World Cup Football

London’s host city bid represents the most high profile of several city launches initiated over the past week or so across England.

Portsmouth, Leicester, Bristol, Sunderland and Newcastle each launched bids of differing levels of conviction.

Portsmouth vowed to advance plans to build a futuristic seafront stadium if it won the right to host World Cup football, while BBC TV presenter and England legend Gary Lineker fronted Leicester’s launch.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bristol, traditionally a rugby city, had its bid – somewhat bizarrely – launched by Eddie Large, a Mancunian comedian popular in the 1980s.

While there are no certainties in the race to host World Cup football in 2018, it seems inevitable that London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham will act as host cities, if England succeeds. Each could conceivably claim more than one World Cup stadium.

It means the remaining 11 cities to have registered an interest will fight it out among themselves for the remaining four or five venues. 

Most of these battles are likely to be straightforward: North East (Sunderland and Newcastle); Yorkshire (Leeds, Sheffield and Hull); East Midlands (Derby, Nottingham and Leicester). 

However the FA’s desire for a geographical spread means that the candidacies of Portsmouth, Bristol and Milton Keynes are likely to stand a decent chance – if they can convince the FA that they will meet the necessary technical criteria by 2018. None of these potential venues currently come near to meeting FIFA’s criteria. 

Hosting World Cup matches is steeped in prestige, but also promises significant economic benefits.

Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland Council, told World Football Insider that if his city’s bid was successful it would bring “significant” short and long term economic benefits. 

“A successful bid can have a lasting legacy in many ways,” he said. “Bringing the World Cup to Sunderland will allow us to showcase the North East to a global audience and encourage visitors for many years… just look at the spotlight on South Africa and the games don’t start until 2010.”

Sunderland has launched one of the most impressive bids, and Sunderland AFC’s chairman, Niall Quinn, has already vowed to increase the Stadium of Light’s capacity to 60,000 if it is successful.

“We have a long and distinguished football heritage in Sunderland,” said Watson. “It would be an honor for everyone in the city to play a part in such a huge event.”

England 2018 Bid Chief to Speak at Conference

The Leaders in Football conference, taking place at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge Stadium on October 7-8, has announced that Andy Anson, England’s 2018 World Cup bid CEO, will be delivering a presentation on the bid.

According to conference organizers, Anson will be discussing the merits and challenges of England’s bid and the detailed planning and preparations needed ahead of the FIFA decision on the 2018 host city in December next year.

Written by James Corbett in London

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