'Russia could be a contender in 2018' - Blatter
LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - The 2018 World Cup should be held in North America although Asia and Europe could also host the finals, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Wednesday.
'If the FIFA executive committee decides later this year that the rotation policy is maintained, in strict procedure it should be in North America in 2018 and there are three countries who could host it there -- the United States, Mexico and Canada,' Blatter told a media briefing.
He dismissed suggestions it was a foregone conclusion the tournament would be held in Europe in 11 years' time.
England, who hosted the World Cup in 1966, has expressed a keen interest in staging the 2018 finals with the government strongly backing the idea.
'I can understand the eagerness of the English FA, supported by politicians, to stage the finals but it is not definite the finals will come back to Europe in 2018,' said Blatter.
Blatter later widened the scope of the debate when he addressed delegates of the Sports Industry Group in London, saying that if the World Cup was in Europe, England might face opposition from within their own confederation.
'Europe does not end at the European Union,' he said.
'You have also to consider Russia. If it does go back to Europe, England would have a very good chance because they have the best technical infrastructure, safe stadiums and well organised security. They are an example to the rest of the world.'
Although Russia has not so far declared an interest in hosting the 2018 finals, the U.S., Australia and China have done so.
The decision on where the finals of 2018 will be held is due to be taken in 2012, shortly after London hosts the Olympic Games.
Blatter was in England for a series of meetings including one with Britain's Finance Minister Gordon Brown, who is very supportive of England's 2018 bid.
FIFA will make a decision on the host nation for the 2014 finals - and on its future rotation policy - in Durban, South Africa in November just before the qualifying round draw for the 2010 finals which are being staged in South Africa.
Brazil are the expected, but far from certain, choice for 2014 while Colombia have also announced they will be bidding.
However, Blatter said he thought Colombia's bid was 'more for PR reasons to promote the country' than a realistic attempt to stage the finals.
He has said previously that if Brazil was not awarded the World Cup then the finals 'could be moved north'.
If that was the case, he said, FIFA could well decide to treat 'the Americas' as one confederation.
The U.S. announced last week it would consider bidding for 2018, while Blatter said senior Chinese officials had informed him of their interest.
'In discussing the Beijing Olympics, Chinese officials have also told me they are considering a bid for a future World Cup,' he added.
He said FIFA would be closely watching how China organised the women's World Cup later this year.