England's 2018 World Cup bid team yesterday filed a formal complaint with Fifa about remarks made recently by Alexei Sorokin, the head of the Russia 2018 bid, about London, which he allegedly described as having a high crime rate and a problem with teenage drinkers.
Under the rules that dictate appropriate behaviour for bidders in the 2018/2022 process, rival bids are not allowed to criticise each other. The Sorokin affair is now bordering on farce as the Russian has intimated he might apologise for the "misunderstanding" arising from comments made in an interview with a newspaper in his home country, but insisted he had never spoken ill of the English bid, that his comments had been taken out of context and/or mistranslated, and hence there was no need to say sorry for the comments themselves.
A spokesman for the English bid said a complaint had been lodged about Sorokin specifically rather than the Russian bid. The England 2018 team do not expect Fifa's ethics committee, already neck-deep in corruption allegations, to spend time looking at Sorokin. They just want Fifa to seek clarity on what he did or did not say.
The offending remarks originated from an interview Sorokin gave to the Sport Express paper, translated as: "It's no secret, for example, that in London they have the highest crime rate compared with other European cities, and the highest level of alcohol consumption among young people."
Sorokin also talked in the same interview about the British media coverage of Russia's bid and its reflections on racism in Russian football. While talking about that, he said Russia did not make capital, for example, out of Manchester United fans being anti-American by burning a US flag.
"We could start a conversation about the lack of tolerance and inciting ethnic hatred by English fans, but do not behave like the aunt in the kitchen criticising our neighbours," he was quoted as saying.
Sorokin said yesterday: "I can only apologise for this misunderstanding [that I was being critical of England]. We have the tapes of the [Sport Express] interview and I know for a fact that I didn't break any rules.
"I did not try to hurt or discredit our bid rivals, there was no malice intended, I'm 100 per cent sure of that.
"I am really sorry that because of several interpretations my interview was distorted. In the interview I used London's problems as an example. Such things are part of life in any big city.
"If you're talking specifically about my interview in the Sport Express and what the British media made out of it, I must say my words have been distorted in three different stages.
"First, people in the Sport Express had interpreted some of my comments in a vague way, not exactly what I was trying to express. Second, much of it was lost in translation from Russian into English and then the rest was made up by the English journalists themselves. Because of all these things the final content came out in a wrong way."
Russia 2018's main spokesman, Andreas Herren, said Sorokin's remarks had been taken out of context. "He used examples in a metaphorical way and within the interview his explanation got condensed and then during the subsequent translation into English and the rehashing it got completely misinterpreted, which he has already pointed out in an email last week to the office of the Mayor of London that he regrets any misinterpretation," he said.
Sorokin will offer the same explanation to Fifa. "I don't feel that what I said originally requires an apology," he said.