The Government is investigating whether the football World Cup finals can be brought back to England, it was announced today.
The move is the first stage in a potential bid by the Football Association to host the 2018 tournament.
A feasibility study was launched today by Chancellor Gordon Brown and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell at a football project for youngsters in London's East End.
Announcing the move, Mr Brown said: "We have shown with the 2012 Olympics bid that, with the right long-term preparation and the full backing of government and the nation, we can bring the biggest international sporting events to Britain.
"By 2018, it will be more than 50 years since England hosted the World Cup, and millions of fans will agree it is time to host it again, in the best stadiums and in front of the most passionate supporters in Europe.
"We are now starting work to understand what produces the best possible bid, how government can support and assist the process, and how to ensure a bid will bring maximum benefits for every region."
The Chancellor is thought to want to spearhead a successful World Cup bid if, as expected, he succeeds Tony Blair as Prime Minister, in order to establish his own sporting legacy in the way that Mr Blair did with the 2012 Olympics.
The feasibility study will be carried out by officials from the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport who will report back to Mr Brown and Ms Jowell some time next year.
The final decision on whether to make a bid will be made by the FA, although no announcement is expected before the autumn of 2006.
The aim of the study is to establish the "components and requirements of a successful bid" and assess the capacity of England and the FA to meet them in full.
In particular it will look at the suitability of the country's stadiums and infrastructure - both now and after they have been upgraded for the Olympics.
It will also consider the level of support for a bid both within the game and among the wider public.
The decision to mount the feasibility study was warmly welcomed by FA chief executive Brian Barwick.
"Any successful World Cup bid needs government support, as we saw with the 2012 Olympic success," he said.
"If the 2018 World Cup comes to Europe we will be giving very serious consideration to making a bid.
"A World Cup in England would be a fantastic event, and we welcome the Government's study to look into the feasibility of hosting the tournament in this country."
Ms Jowell said that any bid would draw on the successful experience of London's Olympic bid.
"Winning the 2012 Olympics showed that with the right long-term preparation and the full backing of government, we can bring the biggest international sporting events to Britain," she said.
"We already have the fantastic stadiums, the unparalleled support and the footballing heritage to guarantee a tremendous sporting spectacle in 2018.
"But if we are to win the right to stage the World Cup we will need to demonstrate the same rigour as we did with the Olympics.
"We will have to meet the four key tests of affordability, deliverability, legacy and winnability. That's why this study is so important."
Officials pointed out that since England hosted the finals for the only occasion in it's history in 1966, the other main European footballing nations - Germany, Spain, Italy and France - had all played host to the tournament.
Germany is also hosting next year's tournament to be followed by South Africa in 2010. The finals are then expected to go to South America in 2014 before returning to Europe in 2018.
The link with 1966 was underlined by the presence of one of Alf Ramsay's Wembley heroes - former West Ham midfielder Martin Peters - at today's launch with Mr Brown and Ms Jowell.Reuse content