Hayatou rejects bribe claim as race hots up

Zurich: African soccer president Issa Hayatou said his conscience was clear on Tuesday after a British TV programme made bribery claims as he and the rest of FIFA`s executive committee prepared to choose the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.

The BBC`s Panorama said that a payment Hayatou received from FIFA`s former marketing partner ISL was a bribe, an allegation he batted away in a television interview given to Reuters two days before Thursday`s vote.

"Personally, I know no-one can influence me," Hayatou, head of the African Football Confederation (CAF), said. "I will vote with a clear conscience."

Soccer`s governing body FIFA also dismissed claims made in the programme, saying the case had already been closed after an investigation.

It forced England`s bit for 2018 to scramble, though, as British Prime Minister David Cameron teamed up with David Beckham to promise FIFA president Sepp Blatter the country`s media would provide great support for the tournament.

"What we made clear to him, and what he already knows, is that if we were to get this World Cup in our country in 2018, our media would be right behind us," Beckham told television reporters.

England is up against three other bids for the right to stage the 2018 World Cup -- Russia, Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium.

The 2022 race is between Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea and the United States.

FIFA`s executive committee will make its choice in a private vote of members on Thursday, after hearing final presentations from the candidates over the next two days.

Australia will be the first bidder for 2022 to present on Wednesday, followed by South Korea, Qatar, the United States and Japan.

The joint-bid for Belgium/Netherlands will go first on Wednesday morning followed by 2018 rivals Spain/Portugal, England and Russia.

While Cameron came to push England`s bid and former U.S. President Bill Clinton was expected to arrive in Zurich late on Tuesday to push his country`s claims, it was still unclear whether Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would speak in person for Russia.

"I cannot say whether he will or will not go there," Putin`s spokesman said on Tuesday.

The Spain/Portugal bid was quiet on Tuesday -- in stark contrast to the Netherlands/Belgium, who brought an oompah band and dozens of fans to provide support at their presentation in a posh city centre bar.

About 80 fans travelled by coach from Amsterdam and Antwerp and sang football songs in a small square off Zurich`s most expensive shopping street Bahnhofstrasse as bid leaders pushed the message that small is beautiful.

"We do things differently from the others because we always think two steps ahead," bid president Ruud Gullit said.

"That`s the only way to survive where big countries all the time have the possibility to do their thing. Our fans are something very special and the whole world knows that."

Attention will turn firmly to the 2022 race on Wednesday as the first 30-minute presentations are made by the bidding nations.

It looked increasingly likely on Tuesday that the vote would be confined to 22 members of the FIFA executive committee, with a plan from Oceania to get their confederation`s acting chief a vote set to fail.

David Chung flew in to Zurich but his chances of being allowed to take part were apparently dashed when Reynald Temarii, one of two executive members suspended over allegations that they had offered to sell their votes to undercover reporters from the Sunday Times, said he would not resign.

The decision to award two World Cups on the same day was always a controversial one and FIFA has also investigated allegations of collusion.

FIFA`s ethics committee decided after an investigation that there was no evidence of wrongdoing among the Spain/Portugal and Qatar bids, though Russia`s bid leader Vitaly Mutko suggested on Tuesday that some bids may still be working together.

"If some countries, who have not made much effort to promote their bid, suddenly become favourites then that situation is not just," Mutko said, adding that Russia would not get involved in any horse trading of votes.

Bureau Report