USA bid chair Sunil Gulati, left, at the bid book presentation in May (Getty)

(WFI) As they await delayed publication of FIFA’s inspection reports, senior World Cup bid officials have spoken about the huge technical demands placed upon their teams.

INSIDER revealed yesterday that FIFA has postponed publication of the inspection reports until mid-November after previously assuring bid teams that they could expect to receive them at least a fortnight earlier, in time for the Oct. 28 FIFA Executive meeting.

All nine candidates are eagerly anticipating the reports into what one bid source described to INSIDER “as the most thorough and exhaustive technical presentation in the history of bidding for a major sporting event”.

Since the start of the year, INSIDER has been canvassing bid teams on the gruelling bid book and inspection process.

USA World Cup bid chairman Sunil Gulati surmised FIFA’s demands most succinctly when he said that FIFA now expected “the World Cup in a box”.

“Everything is signed, sealed and delivered maybe 12 years out,” he said in London last week. “Everything contracted, hotel rooms booked across the country.”

Another senior official on a European bid described the pursuit of legal and governmental guarantees demanded by the bid process as “exhausting”.

England 2018 director Ian Riley, who also authored South Africa’s unsuccessful bid book for 2006 and winning pitch for 2010, told INSIDER earlier this year that it was “the nature of the game” that bid books get better because of FIFA’s heightened expectations.

“FIFA’s requirements – they’re getting longer and very much more specific on what they want you to deliver,” he told INSIDER.

“That in itself will lead to a better bid book because there’s more defined plans in it.”

“World Cup in a Box
Gulati’s experience is perhaps most interesting because this is the third World Cup bid – over the duration of more than a quarter century – on which he has worked.

After Colombia was stripped of the right to host the 1986 finals, bidding for the right to host it – at just three year’s notice – became a two-way fight between Mexico and the USA.

“I can’t really say I worked on ’86 in any meaningful way,” he said. “In ’86 a lot of the written documents were handled by the NASL. The NASL, or some of its owners, owned Kick Magazine and I was an editorial assistant at Kick with an English journalist, who was in many ways the principal author of the bid.

“So yes, but the bid was really a little bit different.”
The prospect of a couple of twentysomething journalists writing a bid book seems so far removed from the reality of 2010 as to be ridiculous.

Gulati says the bidding process for the 1994 finals was subject to closer scrutiny but was still “nothing like now”.

The bid was underwritten by personal loans from the head of the US federation, Werner Fricker, although Gulati says that stories of officials re-mortgaging their houses (“The stories get better!”) have been exaggerated.
“Brazil and Morocco were our main competitors [then],” he said.

“It was nothing like this process. The visits, the direction for going to convince people was very different. We had a very good technical bid, but in terms of the resources required – human and financial – to put together a bid proposal.
“We were feeling pretty good when [FIFA] changed the announcement date to July 4, 1988 from a couple of days different.

“But were we sure we were going to win? The answer’s no. We were still trying to convince people, just not in the same political campaign, strategic over a couple of years as this process. It was very, very different.

“The standards FIFA requires are completely different. Then it was essentially on a promise that we can do this – we did it for the Olympics, we’ve got big stadiums, and it’s a big country. This is very different. This is the World Cup in a box.”

Bids may still come unstuck

The challenges bid nations have faced meeting these criteria was this week exemplified when Australian bid chairman Frank Lowy said that his country was just “48 hours” from pulling out of the bid race in May. This was when the rival AFL football code dug its heels in over allowing the use of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the bid book.

In the past this would not have been an issue.

FIFA inspection chief Harold Mayne-Nicholls with Frank Lowy in Sydney in July (Getty)

Technical bid rules, as Gulati has pointed out, would have allowed the use of a mere pledge to use a particular stadium with the paperwork being done later. Now FIFA demands all those agreements be in place by the time of the bid book submission.

“The bid book is as much a legal document as it is a technical proposal,” one bid book author told INSIDER.

“If anything the pitch to host the tournament is just a small part of the bid book. The rest is made up of extensive legal guarantees.”

In Australia’s case, these guarantees have been called into question in the past 24 hours following a report in the Herald-Sun newspaper over the use of the MCG.

It claims that the venue’s use during the World Cup is conditional on Football Federation Australian (FFA) delivering on public assurances that it will secure FIFA approval for the AFL season to continue during the World Cup.

If FIFA demands its postponement as a precondition for awarding the tournament, then all deals are off and the AFL will keep football away from the ground.

FIFA rules demand a moratorium on other major sporting events in a host city during a World Cup.

There is a suggestion within Australia that the FFA does not consider the AFL season to fall within this criteria, but FIFA are unlikely to view a sport that attracts 40,000 crowds as anything other than a major rival event.

The FFA today declined to comment on the reports and the Herald-Sun cites only unnamed sources. Bid insiders claim that AFL support for the bid is “rock solid” and insist that everything is in place in its bid book.

But if there is cause for doubt, or holes in Australia’s – or any bid’s – guarantees, then we can expect FIFA to pull them apart when it finally delivers its verdict in a month’s time.

Talking points:
– Sepp Blatter was glowing about England’s legacy plans on a visit to London. A well-connected source independent of any bids told INSIDER earlier this week that there was a mood shift in the FIFA president’s office in favour of “safe” bids, such as England and the USA. Were Blatter’s comments proof of this, or was he merely repeating what he says everywhere he goes?
– An INSIDER poll found that 40 per cent of readers favoured Russia as the next European host of the World Cup.
– Australian bid chairman Frank Lowy claimed that his country’s withdrawal from the race for 2018 had helped its case in securing the votes of Europe’s FIFA Ex-co members.
– Korea’s elusive FIFA Ex-co member Chung Mong-joon followed up his explosive speech at Leaders in Football last week, by saying that he is “not thinking about running for the presidency in 2011” and is focusing instead on the country’s World Cup bid.
– Ex-co member Chuck Blazer said that he was still to receive answers from the Qatar bid about how it aims to counteract its climate problems if it wins the race for 2022.
– The USA on Friday finally dropped out of the race to host the 2018 World Cup to focus on the 2022 campaign. The decision clears the way for FIFA to award the tournament to one of the four European bids.
– England pulled out of the 2022 race yesterday and the other three European candidates are expected to follow suit, as FIFA rules prevent confederations hosting consecutive finals.

Lobbying trail:
Fifty days out from FIFA’s D-day, England finally got their audience with Sepp Blatter, who visited Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street.

UEFA president Michel Platini was guest of honour at Tuesday’s Holland v Sweden match in Amsterdam.

Reports that Vladimir Putin will travel to Zurich as part of Russia’s final push to host the tournament in December were contradicted when he spoke to reporters in Sochi this week. According to RIA Novosti, the Russian Prime Minister is still to decide.

Australian bid officials have asked INSIDER to clarify our report last week that said CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz was in Sydney for the Australia v Paraguay match. Leoz did not visit the country.

Good week for: England, who hosted an “impressed” Sepp Blatter at Downing Street, where the FIFA president enjoyed a private lunch with Prime Minister David Cameron and spent hours talking with the self-confessed Aston Villa fan.

Bad week for: Australia whose “Breakfast on the Bridge” PR set-piece was a washout. Later in the week, bid chairman Frank Lowy acknowledged the struggles his team had completing the bid book, saying that it came within “48 hours” of collapse in May.

Next week: As the World Cup bid race enters its “business end”, bid teams are increasingly keeping their cards close to their chests. But INSIDER understands that England, Holland-Belgium, Japan and Korea will be busy on the lobbying trail next week.

By INSIDER’s James Corbett

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