Russia bid chief denies undermining England

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MOSCOW - Russia's 2018 World Cup bid chief defended himself on Tuesday over allegations that he broke FIFA rules by publicly criticising England's rival campaign.

"Those reports are totally false and untrue," Russian bid head Alexei Sorokin told Reuters on Tuesday after his interview in the local paper Sport-Express made headlines in the British media.

Sorokin was quoted as saying in the paper: "It's no secret that London has the highest crime rate when compared with other European cities, and the highest level of alcohol consumption among young people."

Asked by Reuters to explain his comments on London's high crime rate, Sorokin said: "Yes, that's what I said, but it is true."

Sorokin also said British media has tried to portray Russia as a racist country "which is not true".

The displaying of a racist banner by fans targeting former Lokomotiv Moscow striker Peter Odemwingie, who is now with West Ham United, was an isolated incident, Sorokin said, and in any case was directed at the player's performances and was not racist.

CRITICISED JOURNALISTS

Sorokin did say that in his comments he had criticised some British journalists who in his words "would do anything to make up a story".

"I must say it's some of the unscrupulous British journalists that make up such stories," he said on Tuesday.

"As far as myself and all our bid officials are concerned, we never say anything on the England bid or other rival bidders for that matter. On the contrary, we try to stay away from any controversy, in particular criticising our rivals."

Sorokin said he had not been contacted by football's world governing body about his interview and did not anticipate any follow-up.

"They are now more concerned dealing with the latest bribery scandal," he said in reference to investigation into newspaper claims that two FIFA executive board members were offered to sell their votes ahead of the decision on the 2018/22 World Cup hosts.

Russia and England are bidding for the 2018 finals along with joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands.

The United States, Japan, South Korea, Qatar and Australia are the candidates for the 2022 tournament.

FIFA will announce the winning bids on December 2 in Zurich.

The game's governing body did not give an immediate response to Reuters over whether it planned to take any action over Sorokin's comments.