ZURICH, December 2 – The marathon race for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups reaches its climax here Thursday as corruption-tainted global body FIFA votes to decide who will stage the footballing extravaganza.Years of intense campaigning and days of last-ditch lobbying will finally come to an end when 22 members of FIFA’s executive committee hold a secret ballot to choose the hosts for the two tournaments.
England, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium will make one final formal presentation for their 2018 bids before FIFA delegates begin voting behind closed doors at 2:00pm local time (1300 GMT).
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Rounds of voting will continue until one bid receives an absolute majority of ballots. Final results are expected to be announced at around 4:00pm (1500 GMT) at Zurich’s Messezentrum conference hall.
The vote will bring the curtain down on the most controversial World Cup votes in years, with FIFA facing myriad allegations of corruption which led to two executive commitee members being suspended.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has acknowledged that the decision to stage votes for two tournaments at the same time was a mistake, making illegal horse-trading between bids inevitable.
The 2018 race has seen England, Russia and Spain-Portugal vying for supremacy in an increasingly acrimonious bidding war. The Dutch-Belgian campaign is regarded as an outsider.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin raised the stakes on Wednesday when he issued a thinly veiled attack on the English bid, saying media reports alleging FIFA corruption were part of an orchestrated "smear campaign."
England 2018 officials, who have distanced themselves from reports critical of FIFA, did not respond to Putin’s comments.
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Privately however, England officials believe Putin’s decision not to travel to Switzerland suggests that the Russian bid, seen as the clear favourite earlier this week, may be vulnerable.
British bookmakers William Hill installed England as joint favourites late Wednesday after Putin’s announcement that he would not be in Zurich.
Both the English and Spain-Portugal bids have sent heavyweight delegations in a show of support for their respective campaigns.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, heir to the throne Prince William and football icon David Beckham are pushing the English bid.
Qatar said FIFA had an "historic opportunity" to bring the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time, building dialogue across the religious divide and promising a commercial bonanza.
The United States used a video appeal from US President Barack Obama and a personal appeal from former leader Bill Clinton to push its claims.
Japan meanwhile outlined a futuristic vision of the World Cup, promising to deck out 400 grounds around the world with giant 3-D flatscreens to give hundreds of millions of fans the opportunity of watching matches in a stadium.