KEIR RADNEDGE in ST PETERSBURG —- Russia, the only foreign country which is now home from home for Sepp Blatter, intends to play a full role in coming up with the right man as next FIFA president – whatever that may mean.
Vitaly Mutko delivered such a promise after welcoming the 79-year-old world football leader on his first trip beyond Switzerland since the judicial tsunami spearheaded by the United States and Swiss authorities on May 27.
Mutko is Russia’s Sports Minister, a member of the FIFA executive committee and has his eye on the vacant slot at the head of the Russian Football Union (which he led once previously).
He is mastermind of arrangements for the draw for the qualifying rounds of the 2018 World Cup which takes place at the Konstantinovsky Palace half an hour outside of St Petersburg on Saturday.
Putin has been a solid supporter of Blatter, in recognition of the Swiss administrator’s defence of Russia as a World Cup host – first after the controversial vote in December 2010 and, secondly, despite a domestic crackdown over human rights issues and internationally derided support of rebels in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Both men are subject to vituperative criticism from abroad but, at least in St Petersburg, Blatter will feel secure and protected from the likelihood of any local comic showering him with rouble notes.
Mutko, in a brief media comment, sigalled that this time Blatter really does intend to step down, albeit not until next February. Hence the need to find the appropriate successor. This means, from a Russian perspective, an individual who will maintain’s Blatter’s ‘no questions asked’ defence of the selection of Russia as 2018 host.
To that extent Mutko is likely to favour the succession falling to Russia’s European federation president Michel Platini.
The Frenchman, inevitably, will use the occasion of the World Cup draw to continue discussions with members both of UEFA and other regional confederations over whether to run for world football’s top job.
Mutko said: “FIFA needs to find a candidate who will rally everyone around him. Russia will contribute to this process because we have a particular role as organisers of the next World Cup.”
Scepticism has arisen about Russia’s hosting capacity because of the slump of the rouble with sharply rising costs and, hence, cutbacks in the construction of new hotels and transport infrastructure across this vast country.
However Mutko has no doubts, insisting: “I have said many times that there is no doubt that the World Cup will be held in Russia. It is not the property of Russia it is FIFA’s property. We are just doing our best to make sure it is staged to the highest standards possible.
“We are a developing country in football terms and this project will leave a valuable legacy.”
The 2018 World Cup will be staged from June 14 to July 15 in 2018 at 12 stadia in 11 cities across Russia: Moscow (Luzhniki and Spartak), St Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don.
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