Football: Banks plays down 2002 claim

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FIFA, world football's ruling body, yesterday insisted that the 2002 World Cup will not be transferred to England from Japan and South Korea - despite the economic crisis in south-east Asia.

Fifa's vice-president, Lennart Johansson, said the tournament could even help the hosts' finances. "There is absolutely no doubt that Japan and South Korea will organise the first World Cup in Asia," he said. "Preparations are going ahead as scheduled and Fifa is in full agreement with both of the organising national associations."

Johansson added that the organisation of a World Cup was a logistical challenge but would boost the countries' economies - though their financial difficulties had been cited as a reason for possible withdrawal.

The Sports Minister, Tony Banks, has been reported as saying England were prepared to take over the 2002 tournament if necessary. But yesterday he warned that any suggestions that the Football Association was involved in manoeuvrings to take the event could jeopardise England's bid to stage the following World Cup in 2006.

Banks insisted claims England could step in were a tribute to the strength of the country's sporting credentials. "Of course we could step in to stage the tournament, because we are a country which could stage a World Cup," he said.

"It is a tribute to our strength that anyone should see us as a possible host," Banks added. "But the suggestion that I have ordered officials to prepare for the possibility of us staging the 2002 World Cup is entirely fictitious. I have issued no such instructions.

"We are not pitching for the 2002 tournament. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Japanese and the South Koreans will host the World Cup and it will be superb. Nonsense like this actually damages our chances for 2006."