England’s bid to host football’s 2018 World Cup was plunged into chaos yesterday as its chairman quit after a sting by the Mail on Sunday revealed how he had accused rival nations of corruption.
Lord Triesman also resigned from his high-profile post as chairman of the Football Association following allegations he made comments about Spain and Russia planning to bribe referees.
England’s 2018 bid team has faxed apology letters to the Russian and Spanish FAs as it tries to rescue the World Cup bid following the revelations in the Mail on Sunday.
In a statement released through the FA, the peer announced his resignation and said he had been a victim of entrapment.
He said: “Private conversation with someone whom I thought to be a friend was taped without my knowledge and passed to a national newspaper.
“That same friend has also chosen to greatly exaggerate the extent of our friendship.”
The former government minister’s departure comes less than a month before England’s players fly out to South Africa.
The 66-year-old suggested that Spain may withdraw its bid to stage the 2018 finals if Russia, which also wants to host the event, helps it to bribe referees in next month’s tournament, the Mail on Sunday reported.
Lord Triesman made the corruption claims to Melissa Jacobs, a civil servant he employed as a private secretary when he was a minister at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
The comments were made in a private conversation taped without his knowledge.
Lord Triesman’s statement released yesterday added: “In that conversation I commentated on speculation circulating about conspiracies around the world. Those comments were never intended to be taken seriously as indeed is the case with many private conversations.
“The views expressed were not the views of the 2018 bid board or the FA.
“Nobody should be under any misapprehension that the FA or 2018 bid board are disrespectful of other nations or Fifa and I regret any such inference that may have been drawn from what has been reported.
“Entrapment especially by a friend is an unpleasant experience both for my family and me but it leaves me with no alternative but to resign.
“I have immediately informed the FA board of my decision.
“I have enjoyed hugely my time at the FA and the bid and feel I accomplished a great deal in areas I love – qualification for the World Cup in South Africa, healthy growth in grass roots, women’s and disability football, and changes in the representation of fans who are the lifeblood of English football and the involvement of our diverse communities.
“The 2018 Fifa World Cup Bid has made enormous progress both around the world and in the technical bid in England. I wish everyone associated with FA all the very best for what is a very exciting future for the game we all love.”
Vice-chairman Barry Bright, who will take on the role of acting chairman of the FA council and will chair this week’s AGM, expressed “considerable regret at the circumstances of his departure”.
New Sports Minister Hugh Robertson welcomed reports that Triesman was to stand down.
“It’s entirely right that he should stand down and that the action should have been taken as quickly as is the case,” he told Sky Sports News.
England presented their bid book for the 2018 tournament to Fifa in Zurich on Friday and a decision on who will host the showpiece event is expected in December.
The chief of Russia’s bid, Aleksey Sorokin, called for football’s governing body to “take appropriate measures”.
England, Russia, joint Spanish-Portuguese and Dutch-Belgian bids, Australia and the United States are the countries in contention for the World Cup.
The revelations came days after Lord Triesman and David Beckham formally presented England’s 1,752-page bid book to Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, football’s world governing body.
The peer made the allegations over dinner with Ms Jacobs, it was claimed.
Former FA chairman Geoff Thompson was last night named as the new chairman of England’s 2018 Fifa World Cup Bid.
A statement from England 2018 read: “Following the unanimous approval of the Football Association Board, Geoff Thompson has been confirmed as the new Chairman of England 2018.
“Thompson, who is a vice-president on both the Fifa and Uefa Executive Committees, is England’s most senior international football administrator.
“He was part of the five-person delegation which delivered England’s Bid Book to Fifa president Sepp Blatter in Zurich on Friday and was chairman of the FA for nine years between 1999 and 2008.
“He will take up his new role with immediate effect.”