A city councillor wants the Football Association to help claw back the £420,000 Sunderland contributed to England’s failed World Cup bid, after suspended FIFA president Sepp Blatter claimed the decision had already been made to award the tournament to Russia.
Mr Blatter this week told a Russian news agency that an agreement for the 2018 World Cup had already been reached before the vote in December 2010.
The previous year, Sunderland had been chosen as one of the host cities in any successful England bid. Each potential host city had to pledge £250,000 towards the bid’s marketing budget, with Sunderland spending a total of £421,584.80.
Nationally, councils spent £2.1million on their bids and the FA splashed out £15million. But Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup, with the 2022 tournament handed to Qatar.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson today said the authority is “considering its options” following Mr Blatter’s comments, while a senior Conservative in the city has urged the FA to see if the money can be clawed back.
In an interview with Tass news agency, Mr Blatter said: “In 2010 we had a discussion of the World Cup and then we went to a double decision.
I thought our bid was very worthwhile and I’d be highly annoyed if people were deceived as part of this process.Councillor Michael Dixon
“For the World Cups, it was agreed that we go to Russia because it’s never been in Russia, Eastern Europe, and for 2022 we go back to America. And so we will have the World Cup in the two biggest political powers.
“And everything was good until the moment when (French president Nicolas) Sarkozy came in.
“In a meeting with the crown prince of Qatar, who is now the ruler of Qatar, and at a lunch afterwards with Mr Platini, he said it would be good to go to Qatar. And this has changed the whole pattern. If the USA was given the World Cup, we would only speak about the wonderful World Cup 2018 in Russia and we would not speak about any problems at FIFA.”
Now, as authorities face huge budget cuts, Sunderland Conservative deputy leader Councillor Michael Dixon believes the FA should be pressing FIFA for the return of cash spent.
“I thought our bid was very worthwhile and I’d be highly annoyed if people were deceived as part of this process,” said Coun Dixon.
“Everybody got together for it. But now that this has come out, I would be pressing the FA to see if there was any way that the money can be paid back.
“I can understand them being a bit reticent, because there are massive problems with FIFA at the moment, but I think we should be pressing them to make an effort because it’s a lot of money.”
Coun Dixon added that the civic leaders gave their backing to the bid because of the huge economic and sporting benefits winning it could bring.
“As a council we supported it cross-party,” he said.
“I’m old enough to remember going to the World Cup games in 1966 at Roker Park and obviously it was different back then but the economic and commercial effects would have been huge. I never thought going for the bid was a waste of time at all.
“We have fantastic facilities here such as the Stadium of Light and the Academy of Light and there would’ve been massive numbers of people coming to the city to stay.
“If it was the case that it was already decided where it would go then that’s pathetic.”
FA chairman Greg Dyke told the House of Commons culture media and sport committee that it would review Mr Blatter’s comments and consider if the cash could be reclaimed.
“If he is saying ‘we wanted Russia’ and it looks like he wanted that fixed before the vote, it’s suggesting it was all fixed anyway.
“We will obviously go back and look at it ... I agree it would be very nice to get taxpayers’ money back.”
Chief operating officer of England’s 2018 bid Simon Johnson has said the FA are entitled to make a claim against world football’s governing body.
He said: “Had they been open about this from the beginning, we would never have started the bid in the first place.”
Coun Paul Watson said: “Sunderland was honoured to be chosen as a Candidate Host City for England’s 2018 FIFA World Cup bid.
“We viewed the potential to host games in 2018 as a major opportunity to showcase our city to a global audience and to attract huge visitor numbers into the North East region.
“And, once again, for Sunderland to be a venue for World Cup games.
“The council is aware of the concerns being raised over the FIFA bidding process and considering its options.”