Money no object for Holland-Belgium bid

BRUSSELS - Belgium and Netherlands can raise the the required one billion-plus euros needed to stage the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, despite the worst economic downturn since World War Two, the man leading the bid said on Tuesday. The so-called Benelux bid is one of 11 candidates competing to host soccer's biggest event alongside Australia, England, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Qatar, Russia, Spain and Portugal, and the United States. The open economies of both nations have been hit hard by the global financial crisis with their banking and manufacturing sectors suffering the most. But Alain Courtois, director of the Benelux bid, is confident the private sector will be able to stump up most of the cash required to fund 12 new stadiums estimated to cost between 60 and 100 million euros ($126.5 million) each. "In the words of (U.S. President) Barack Obama, yes we can," Courtois told Reuters in an interview. "We are very confident we will get the investment for the stadiums. The private sector has been very interested since the beginning of this bid. We hope to fund the majority of the stadiums through the private sector with little cost to the public." "All the stadiums are located outside the cities ... the Belgian government for example has exercised privileges in construction to allow the private sector to take advantage of constructing flats, apartments and commercial galleries outside of the cities.," he added. Brussels plans to inject 300 million euros worth of incentives into its construction industry as part of its stimulus plan to rejuvenate its ailing economy. PUBLIC FUNDING Belgium had a "catastrophic" end to 2008, the head of its central bank said recently, while the Dutch economy is set to contract by 3.5 percent this year, its first full-year recession since 1982. Both governments have also had to prop up a number of their ailing banks such as Fortis and ABN Amro, but Courtois -- also a member of the Belgian senate -- said Brussels and Amsterdam have guaranteed to fund the necessary public infastructure such as improved transport links. "In difference with some candidates, the two governments have already signed up to both political and financial support. Netherlands was a little bit slower, but now they have clearly signed and guaranteed to give us the financial support neccessary," he said. Courtois, who led the successful joint Benelux bid for Euro 2000, said he was not concerned by recent comments by Sepp Blatter, head of soccer's governing body FIFA, indicating he did not favour dual bids. "Sepp Blatter was clear with us. He wants to exclude joint bids by big countries like Japan and Korea in 2002," he said. "But he accepts we are different. We are one bid, based on a joint venture. We have one political Benelux parliamentary instiution to decide on all matters such as finance, security and mobility." England, the home of the beautiful game, is seen as favourite to host the event for the first time since 1966 if it returns to Europe, but Courtois is not convinced. "I am furious when people say we have no chance. Why? Because we have small countries? But small countries have a lot of possibilities, especially in the curent financial climate," he said. "Our companies are doing very well abroad and all around the world. England is a very good candidate with big stadiums, lots of money it seems, but they have an Olympic games in 2012 and after that, maybe a World Cup is too much to stage. "But the majority of FIFA members are small countries. The big countries do not have monopoly on big events," Courtois added.