England's hopes of hosting the 2018 World Cup were rocked on Sunday when bid chief David Triesman stood down following a newspaper report in which he appeared to make bribery allegations against rival bidders.
The Mail on Sunday published the contents of what it said was a secretly taped private conversation between Triesman, who is also chairman of the Football Association (FA), and a former aide from his time as a government minister.
Triesman suggested that World Cup favourites Spain, with the help of Russia, were seeking to bribe referees at next month's finals in South Africa.
Sources confirmed that Triesman had decided to stand down while England 2018 chiefs moved quickly to distance themselves from his reported comments, saying that letters of apology had been faxed to their Spanish and Russian counterparts as well as world governing body FIFA.
A World Cup 2018 spokesman said Triesman's reported comments in no way represented their own views.
Triesman, whose position as chairman of the FA is now in question, was quoted as saying Russia could help Spain bribe referees in return for Spain withdrawing its own bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
The Mail on Sunday said the FA had failed in its attempt to get a High Court injunction preventing publication of the embarrassing revelations which could prove to be a public relations disaster for England's bid.
The FA was yet to comment on the story which also contained Triesman's views on Chelsea's John Terry, who lost the England captaincy following tabloid revelations about his private life.
Newly-appointed Sports Minister Hugh Robertson praised the quick response by the England 2018, adding that he doubted it would cause long-term harm to the bid.
"It's certainly not good news," he told Sky Sports News. "However, you have to remember that these things do blow over and once that happens the fundamental strengths of the bid are still there."
While the 66-year-old Triesman's comments were made in a private conversation, the nature of them made his position untenable.
"I think the Africans we are doing very well with. I think we're doing kind of well with some of the Asians. Probably doing well with Central and North America," Triesman, who joined David Beckham at FIFA headquarters in Zurich last week to hand over England's 2018 bid book, was quoted as saying.
"My assumption is that the Latin Americans, although they've not said so, will vote for Spain. And if Spain drop out, because Spain are looking for help from the Russians to help bribe the referees in the World Cup, their votes may then switch to Russia."
Triesman, who became the first independent chairman of the FA in 2008, has been criticised over his handling of England's 2018 bid which has suffered a series of public relations setbacks. FIFA vice president Jack Warner was among the critics.
England's bid, outlined in a 1,500-page book last week at FIFA headquarters, is still regarded as the front runner. They are competing with Russia and the joint bid from Spain and Portugal as well as Australia, the United States and Belgium-Netherlands to stage the 2018 World Cup.