David Cameron has telephoned Fifa powerbroker Jack Warner to arrange a private meeting ahead of the vote on the 2018 World Cup as England seek to shore up their vote amid fresh concerns of an executive committee backlash against the UK media.
The ethics commission also announced that it had found insufficient evidence to pursue collusion allegations against Spain-Portugal and Qatar, though Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said he could not rule out the possibility that bids might still strike deals.
Concerns that the English media’s role in exposing breaches of Fifa rules by Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii may damage the bid were stoked however by Claudio Sulser, the chairman of the ethics commission.
Despite issuing bans totalling 16 years on the basis of evidence provided by the Sunday Times, a verdict he said transmitted “a strong message” about Fifa’s tolerance for corruption. Sulser condemned the newspaper for “twisting the facts” and sensationalism”.
He also warned that the impending broadcast of a Panorama documentary could cause further damage to the England bid.
Sulser’s comments underline the significance of the media issue to England, and help explain the priority that has been given to lobbying for Warner’s vote, and those of his two colleagues in the Concacaf federation, Chuck Blazer and Raphael Salguero.
England are concerned that if Panorama focuses on Warner’s notorious history within Fifa it could alienate him. Warner’s funnelling of Trinidad’s official 2006 World Cup ticket allegation through his family travel firm, and his ongoing dispute with the national team who claim still to be owed money from that tournament, are expected to feature in the program.
Cameron’s call is the latest attempt to mollify him, and follows an England friendly in Port-of-Spain, a meeting with Gordon Brown and a personal visit by David Beckham to Trinidad in September.
The Prime Minister had initially invited Warner to Downing Street but diary commitments prevented him from accepting, and in a call on Wednesday they agreed to meet in Zurich ahead of the vote.
“He [Cameron] called to ask me for my support for the English bid and he asked me to join him for lunch,” Warner said. “He said he hoped Beckham was a good ambassador and said that if there was anything he can do for Trinidad and Tobago he will be prepared to do so.”
Warner, who took the call as he toured a sewage works in Trinidad, told Cameron England’s biggest rival was Russia.
“If he can overcome the Russian bid, which I think is gaining momentum, he doesn’t have a problem. I don’t think he has to worry about the other countries too much,” he said.
If Warner’s comments offered hope to England Sulser’s comments was less positive.
“What I saw and cannot tolerate is the fact that the newspaper changed the sentences and the way they presented the truth,” Sulser said. “I have respect for journalists, your job is important to the functioning of democracy, but you need to establish the facts, not just those that are important to your material interests or to sensationalism.”
Asked if he thought England’s bid could be damage he said: “I don’t know, what is your view?” he said. “If I would ask this question some would say yes, some would say no. I hope not.”
The ethics committee’s decision on collusion also offered little comfort for England. Despite the ruling on Spain-Portugal and Qatar, suspicions of a deal remain among their rivals, which Valcke’s comments did not dispel.
Describing the verdicts against Adamu and Temarii as “a sad day” for Fifa he said: “Am I certain that the votes for 2018 and 2022 will be free of any collusion? I cannot answer this question. As I don’t vote I have no idea what the discussions are. As the Fifa president said though, having two World Cup votes at the same time opened the door to such conversations, particularly as you have eight bids that have executive committee members in the room.”
Fifa president Sepp Blatter will comment on the sanctions on Friday after the executive committee meets to ratify the decisions of the ethics committee.
Former Nigerian sports minister Adamu, who was filmed asking for money to be channelled through a family member’s bank account, was banned for three years and fined 10,000 Swiss francs, becoming the first official to be found guilty of bribery offences under Fifa’s code of ethics.
Temarii was banned for one year and fined CHF5,000 for breaches of regulations relating to loyalty and confidentiality. Both men have said they will appeal, though they are unlikely to be heard until after the December 2 vote on the World Cup hosts.
The impact of the verdicts on the 2018 and 2022 races is not yet certain, but it has heightened the sensitivity of the bidders and executive committee members gathered in Zurich at the start of a final, decisive days of lobbying.