Government backs plan for Britain to bid for 2018 World Cup

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Britain's chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup were given a shot in the arm yesterday when the sports minister, Richard Caborn, said the Government was preparing to back a bid.

Caborn said that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, widely expected to take over as Prime Minister, was "very, very keen" on the idea when the pair met senior football figures, including the Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, on Wednesday.

Government backing is crucial and, while the Government was tainted by the ill-fated bid for the 2006 World Cup, it seems that that experience has not dissuaded ambitions of landing the tournament in 12 years' time. The 2006 bid was widely viewed as doomed from the start because of a gentlemen's agreement that Germany would get most of Europe's crucial support, which it did.

A Whitehall study is still being carried out to ascertain if a 2018 bid - which could cost tens of millions of pounds - would be a worthwhile risk. But asked if the Government would support it, Caborn said: "Absolutely. I have no doubt about that."

The 2010 World Cup will be staged in South Africa, and the 2014 event in South America. Formal bids for 2018 will be submitted in 2010, with a decision in 2012, the year London stages the Olympics.

"If we have a good 2012 Olympics it will put us in the premier division of countries for running sports events," Caborn said. "Also the World Cup would take place all over [Britain], bringing Scotland and Wales into play as well."

Brian Barwick, the chief executive of the FA, added: "If that is the year it is going to come back to Europe, we're going to go for it."

Johansson said yesterday that every third World Cup finals tournament from now on (as opposed to every other tournament, as now) should be staged in Europe.

"The next time it might be back in Europe would be 2018," he said. "England has not had the World Cup since 1966 and I know there is a great deal of interest to support such a project."

Other possible 2018 bidders include the Benelux countries (jointly), Spain, Turkey, Australia and China. An English bid would have the new Wembley as its centrepiece. If it is built by then.