BRUSSELS Prime Minister David Cameron dropped the strongest hint yet that Britain could offer to host the 2022 football World Cup if Qatar loses it, saying on Thursday England would be "happy to find a home" for one of its traditional sports.
World football governing body FIFA is investigating the bids that awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the 2018 Cup to Russia, including allegations that bribes were paid to secure the Qatari bid. Several top football officials have said Qatar could be stripped of the tournament if corruption is found.
When asked at a G7 news conference in Brussels alongside U.S. President Barack Obama whether Qatar should lose its right to hold the tournament - and if Britain would be ready to host it instead - Cameron said:
"On the issue of football, we should let the investigation run its course. But of course England is the home of football, as it is the home and inventor of many sports: tennis, rugby, golf, skiing, table tennis, cricket ..."
Cameron was interrupted by Obama, who quipped that baseball and basketball might not be British inventions. The British prime minister continued: "So we are always happy to find a home for these sports."
Qatar's 2022 bid attracted controversy from the outset because of the tiny country's extreme summer heat and its lack of a domestic footballing tradition.
This week, the Sunday Times newspaper published what it said were excerpts from leaked emails and financial accounts showing millions of pounds were spent in bribes to persuade football officials to vote for Qatar's bid. Qatar denies the accusations.
A former U.S. prosecutor leading FIFA's investigation is expected to deliver his report in July, about a week after the end of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
The 2022 and 2018 World Cups were awarded on the same day in 2010. Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States lost out to Qatar for the 2022 tournament. England made a failed bid for 2018, with Cameron personally lobbying for its case.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff)