The England 2018 World Cup bid team's relations with their biggest rivals Russia were at crisis point last night after the Russians accused the English of being "absolutely primitive" and refused to apologise for their slurs on London.
In an extraordinary attack on the English bid, after weeks of simmering tensions, the honorary president of the Russian football union, Viacheslav Koloskov, broke with all Fifa protocol to give voice to his country's frustrations with their rivals. In an interview with a Russian sports website he claimed that the English "were afraid of how badly their bid is going".
Koloskov, whose words were translated for the Press Association by an independent translator, said it was a "comical situation". He said: "English journalists are provoking members of the [Fifa executive] committee, and they now say one of the members of our bidding team has spoken out against England in an improper manner.
"I think it's a raising of tensions, and also an attempt to in some way influence the work of our bidding team. These acts have little chance of success. Russia should not be afraid of sanctions. There won't even be an investigation. The behaviour of the English is absolutely primitive. Instead of talking about their own merits, they try to put off their opponents."
His words came last night as the England 2018 delegation were considering their response to a statement from Alexei Sorokin, the general director of the Russian bid, in which he said he would not apologise for his outspoken criticism of London – criticism which is forbidden by the Fifa rules governing bidding nations.
The England team are now certain to complain about Koloskov, having already lodged a formal complaint to Fifa on Tuesday over highly critical remarks from Sorokin, a former Russian diplomat who served in Washington, about London. Yesterday Sorokin told Reuters he had sent a letter to the English 2018 bid that "expressed" his "regret" over what he described as a "misunderstanding" but stopped well short of the formal apology that was requested.
The England 2018 team had been given assurances by Fifa that the world governing body had spoken to the Russians and were confident that a full apology would be forthcoming. The latest outburst from Koloskov suggests that the Russians have no intention of apologising.
Last night the England 2018 chief executive, Andy Anson, and international president, David Dein, were still in Zurich in meetings while chief of staff Simon Greenberg was in London. The three were deciding on a response to the latest move from the Russians which would have to be agreed by the chairman, Geoff Thompson, a member of Fifa's executive committee (ExCo).
The latest provocative move from the Russians has raised temperatures considerably in the 2018 bidding contest, the result of which will be announced by Fifa on 2 December. Having requested an apology on the Sorokin remarks, the English bid team will not be able to back off over Koloskov.
The comments from Sorokin that are at the centre of the original complaint by the English bid come from an interview with the Sport Express newspaper in Russia in which he said that London had the "highest crime rate compared with other European cities, and the highest level of alcohol consumption among young people".
While the English bid are bemused at the Russians' constant attempts to undermine them, the Russians cannot understand why they come in for so much criticism from the British media. The spat has been played out against the backdrop of a crisis at Fifa in the wake of The Sunday Times investigation that caught two Fifa ExCo members allegedly offering their vote in exchange for cash for football projects.
Yesterday one former ExCo member said that the decision on who is awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals should be put back from 2 December while Fifa's ethics committee completes its investigation into the allegations against Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Tahiti's Reynald Temarii.
Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, who was the head of the German FA when his country bid successfully for the 2006 tournament, said the decision should be delayed for four weeks. "The awarding [of the two World Cups] should be postponed until the question is cleared up, in a negative or a positive way."Reuse content