Spain and Qatar back under microscope after note fiasco

SURREPTITIOUS note passing may sound like harmless classroom mischief but it is threatening to wreak serious damage on Spain, England’s rivals to host the 2018 World Cup.

It was confirmed yesterday that the Spanish member of Fifa’s executive committee, Angel Villar Llona, passed a note to his Qatari colleague, Mohamed bin Hammam, (right) during a meeting last month that read: “Congratulations, we are going to win”.

Against a backdrop of allegations that Spain and Qatar may have colluded to help each other win the 2018 and 2022 votes respectively, it has been interpreted by some as evidence of foul play.

Suggestions of a conspiracy between the two countries were already being investigated by the world governing body’s ethics committee before the meeting in question, and the note incident threatens to muddy the waters further.

But Chuck Blazer, the USA’s executive committee member and the man who verified the note’s existence, insisted it was no smoking gun. Blazer said he believed it referred not to winning the bid, but escaping punishment from the ethics committee. “It is more likely the note referred to the subject that the previous conversation had been about,” said Blazer. “That discussion had been about the ethics committee and the fact that nobody had provided any hard evidence. It’s the type of thing that shouldn’t have happened but nothing more than that.”

England’s bid looks to have lost ground to its main rivals in the run-up to the vote, which takes place on 2 December. Russia had been seen as the biggest threat but a joint bid from Spain and Portugal has gathered momentum.