- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ZURICH (AP) - With Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulling out of helping Russia’s 2018 World Cup bid, Wednesday’s frantic last day of politicking was left to other leaders, princes, actors and models to work their charm on the 22 voters.

Putin’s withdrawal and allegation that the bidding process had turned into an “unfair competition” following scandals targeting FIFA dented Russia’s stature as a favorite to host the event.

England continued to lead the sporting diplomacy, with Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham seeking to sway FIFA’s executive committee for their 2018 bid.

The Spain-Portugal bid again kept its lobbying behind closed doors, but heard Wednesday it will not be able to count on the injured Cristiano Ronaldo in its buildup to the 2018 World Cup vote. Real Madrid said the Portuguese winger needs to recover for Saturday’s match against Valencia.

The Belgium-Netherlands bid, considered the outsider for 2018, was hoping to be boosted by the arrival of Johan Cruyff.

Ahead of Thursday’s 2018 presentation and vote, the five 2022 candidates _ the United States, Qatar, Australia, Japan and South Korea _ made their final pitches to the executive committee Wednesday.

U.S. bidders brought a video message from President Barack Obama, a live speech from Landon Donovan and a botched presentation from Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who missed a page from his script.

Former President Bill Clinton spoke of U.S. strength through cultural diversity, promising a World Cup where every qualifying nation will have native backers living in the United States.

While the American bid stressed diversity, South Korea went for unity.

It highlighted the prospect of peace and a united Korea, insisting that soccer had the power to bring people closer and would be an agent of political change to end the standoff between North and South on the divided peninsula.

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik went to the World Cup in South Africa this year, where both South and North Korea played, to highlight the prospect of unity.

“We saw that football has the power to bring people together, to end enmity and to spur reconciliation,” Kim said. “It gave us a vision that the World Cup in 2022 can be a celebration of peace for Korea and the world.”

Qatar is considered by some an outsider to host the first World Cup in the Middle East, downplayed criticism that it would be simply too hot in the desert nation.

“It would be a bold gamble and an exciting prospect, but with no risk,” bid chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi said through a translator. “Heat is not and will not be an issue.”

Australia lined up all the elegance of star model Elle Macpherson to offset its funky presentation.

As for the 2018 bidders, Putin made a high-profile trip to Guatemala in 2007 to help secure the 2014 Winter Olympics for Sochi, having announced that trip more than a week in advance. This time, his no-show came only a day ahead of the vote.

Putin said Wednesday he would not go to FIFA headquarters to exert even more pressure on the voters after the corruption allegations of the past weeks. And he called on other international leaders to do likewise.

“As are all fair-minded people, I am very disappointed about the recent allegations against certain FIFA executive committee members,” Putin said. “I view that as unfair competition.”

Recently, a Sunday Times of London sting led to the expulsion of two FIFA executive committee members; a BBC documentary accused others of taking secret payments.

Beckham has been lobbying since his arrival on Tuesday and has met with several executive committee members.

“I’ve known how important it is to keep fighting to the last minute,” said Beckham, the former England captain who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Earlier, Prince William worked his charm during his pre-dawn breakfast to make England’s case. And even British Prime Minister David Cameron put himself into shuttle diplomacy, flying in between Zurich and London to mix parliamentary politics with high-profile lobbying.

And after the BBC had raised corruption allegations early this week that were seen as potentially harmful to the bid, another icon of the British media pleaded with FIFA to ignore it.

The Sun tabloid had a huge picture of the World Cup trophy alongside an “Open Letter to the 2018 World Cup Committee.”

“Dear FIFA, The BBC may have given you the false impression that the people of England do not wish to host the World Cup,” the ad read before going to say the whole nation backed the bid.

He did acknowledge that “the presence of the prime minister would have been an additional inspiration.”


AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar and Rob Harris in Zurich, and Associated Press writer David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.

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