Published November 20, 2014
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - Former Netherlands captain Ruud Gullit has promised the greenest World Cup ever, including two million free bicycles for fans, if his country and Belgium win the right to stage the 2018 or 2022 World Cups.
Australia kicked off the proceedings in which the nine candidates handed over the so-called 'bid book', a huge document containing details of their plans for hosting the event, to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
They were followed by England, with David Beckham presenting the document to Blatter, and Netherlands/Belgium.
FIFA will decide the hosts for both tournaments on Dec 2 and the 2018 finals are widely expected to go to a European country.
Australia, England, Japan, Netherlands/Belgium, Russia, Spain/Portugal and the United States are bidding for the 2018 or 2022 finals while Qatar and South Korea are bidding for the finals in 2022 only.
Blatter said joint bids would be treated with the same consideration as single bids.
"We will not make a difference if there is a combined bid or a single bid," he said, having in the past been quoted as saying bids with two nations were less likely to be successful.
Most delegations turned up in limousines but the Dutch and Belgians, led by former Netherlands and AC Milan forward Gullit, made a more unorthodox entry.
"It will be the greenest World Cup ever with an environment protection plan the world has never seen before," said Gullit, who is president of the bid.
"The games will be played in 14 truly green stadiums. The compactness of our countries is a great asset -- due to the short distance the next game is never far away and we will offer the fans a network of free public transport and two million free bikes.
"In the Low Countries, everyone can go to the stadiums by bike, just like we arrived this morning."
Beckham emphasized England's passion for football and the country's cultural diversity.
"Football runs through our veins," he told Blatter in his speech. "We are all brought up on it.
"As a player nothing could possibly beat playing in front of your own fans in your own country at the World Cup."
Other countries brought on political heavyweights, with First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov representing Russia and Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, son of the Emir of Qatar, putting the case for the Middle East country.
"We consider it a great privilege to be representing the Middle East," said Al-Thani, whose country has promised to build 12 air-conditioned stadiums if it wins.
"It's a first for the region. If we are awarded the World Cup, rest assured that the imprint left on our area of the world would be everlasting.
"In the same way that the World Cup is set to open its doors to Africa later this year, we hope that they will open to the Middle East in 2022."
Shuvalov said: "In hosting the World Cup, it is our entire country as well as our football that would make progress. And with all due respect to the other candidates, I am convinced that only Russia can succeed."
Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the 2002 event while England were hosts in 1966, the United States in 1994 and Spain in 1982. The other candidates are bidding for their first World Cup.
A FIFA inspection team will visit all the candidates before the final decision is made.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)