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What do Panorama allegations mean for England?

For weeks now, England’s World Cup bid leaders have been speaking with trepidation about the possible fallout from the BBC’s Panorama investigation into Fifa.

On Monday morning, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was at it again, tweeting that the bid team was “holding their breath for Panorama tonight”.

But now that the main thrust of the programme has been aired on BBC News, just how significant will it turn out to be?

First of all, here is a summary of the central allegations from the programme by the investigative journalist Andrew Jennings.

Jennings unearthed a secret document left over from the financial collapse of Fifa’s marketing partner ISL in 2001 detailing $100m of bribes, or “schmiergeld” as it is known in German, paid to sports officials to secure lucrative TV and sponsorship contracts.

Among the 175 names of individuals and companies are three current members of the Fifa executive committee - the powerful board of officials that will decide on Thursday which country or countries host the 2018 World Cup.

African football president Issa Hayatou is accused of taking 100,000 French Francs (about £13,000) while Nicolas Leoz, Paraguay’s executive committee member, is listed as having received more than $700,000 (£450,000).

An even more eye-watering sum - $9.5m (£6.1m) - was handed to a company called Sanud, which, according to a Brazilian senate inquiry, is directly linked to the Brazilian executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira.

Panorama says these bribes were paid during a 10-year period between 1989 and 1999 - years when Fifa did not sell its TV and sponsorship rights in-house.

The programme also makes some new claims against Jack Warner, the Fifa vice-president from Trinidad and Tobago whom England must convince to back them if they are to stand a chance in Thursday’s vote.

Panorama alleges he bought $80,000 (£51,000) worth of official 2010 World Cup tickets to be sold on the black market - something which is against Fifa rules. Fifa did not investigate Warner for wrongdoing despite a similar black market tickets scandal involving him during the 2006 World Cup.

Warner dismisses the claims as a “rehash of the same old bulls***”.

So what is the significance of all this?

The ISL bribery allegations are very serious and will raise yet more questions about Fifa’s probity coming just weeks after the Sunday Times cash for votes affair.

The ISL story is a scandal worthy of journalistic investigation and the BBC, or anyone else for that matter, should be free to examine Fifa’s involvement in what happened.

It is worth pointing out that this was all subject to an investigation by the Swiss magistrate Thomas Hildebrand that, after many months, finally came to court in 2008 with six former ISL officials taking the stand.

Leoz’s name emerged in court documents then - but in connection with a payment of much less money.

In the end, the case was closed in June this year when unnamed Fifa officials agreed to repay £3.5m in connection with the kickbacks that were paid by ISL.

And the problem for the Swiss justice system is that at the time when ISL are alleged to have been paying the money out it wasn’t actually a criminal offence.

But what is clear, despite the case being closed, is that Fifa still has serious questions to answer over the ISL scandal.

Just how much money was paid to officials connected with the governing body and over how many years?

Fifa will argue that this was all a long time ago - at least 11 years - and that the matter, as far as the Swiss authorities are concerned, is well and truly closed.

The other point to make is that while these are serious allegations against current members of the executive committee, they do not have any direct bearing on the current bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Despite that, it does not mean that there will not be any repercussions. In fact, the implications for England could be as serious as they feared.

Why? Well, firstly, England hoped Hayatou might vote for them. This risks alienating him further as he is already angry at the fallout from the Sunday Times investigation that resulted in Nigerian executive committee member Amos Adamu and three other former African executive committee members being suspended from Fifa.

It could be argued that the impact of the Teixeira and Leoz allegations will be minimal as they are already committed to Spain/Portugal and would only possibly have an influence on England’s chances if it came down to a straight fight against Russia in the last round.

But the Warner allegations are potentially the most damaging of the lot. Although he will brush them off in public as an irrelevance - he says he will continue to sleep well at night - privately he will be furious.

Warner, who is said to control at least two but possibly all three of the Concacaf votes, has been courted assiduously by England. David Beckham has been to Trinidad to see him and British Prime Minister David Cameron will have lunch with him this week.

Interesting and worthy of further inspection though Panorama’s ticket claims are, they are hardly a smoking gun and, with Warner already expressing his concerns over the programme, this could be the last straw.

Lose Warner and England will lose. It is as simple as that.

England 2018 have already been arguing the programme is not in the public interest and may turn on the BBC and the media if the reaction among Warner and other executive committee members is negative in the next 24 hours.

But the key questions to bear in mind amid all the spin that will follow are these:

Will Panorama halt the vote and cause a major inquest at Fifa? No.

Is it helpful for an England bid already struggling? Probably not.

Will it lose England the bid? No.

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