KEIR RADNEDGE in ST PETERSBURG: Russia, its people and President Vladimir Putin have been assured they need worry no longer about speculation concerning their hosting of the 2018 World Cup finals.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter used his opening address at the World Cup draw here in St Petersburg to dispel any suggestion that Russia’s date with its football destiny was at risk from corruption suspicions or political storms.
Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in scandal-enshrouded circumstances in December 2010 which are being investigated by the office of the Swiss Attorney-General.
Most of the controversy has encircled Qatar but the Russians’ campaign has not escaped the fall-out of scepticism because FIFA’s own inquiry found that all the bid data had been wiped from their computers.
Russia’s hosting has also come under attack from human rights campaigners and from politicians opposed to its military adventure in Crimea and Ukraine.
Blatter sought to end any doubt in the conclusion to his remarks at a draw show screened live around the world for anyone – including critics in particular – who wished to hear.
He said: “I can tell you, Mr President [Putin], that yesterday FIFA’s executive committee expressed again its trust and confidence in Russia for the organisation of this competition, its trust in the Russian authorities, the organising committee and the Russian people.
“So, therefore, we are looking forward to an exciting World Cup for the game, for the world, for Russia.”
Blatter made no other reference or allusion to the turmoil surrounding FIFA whose presidency he is being forced to relinquish next February. Instead he talked up the power and outreach of football in general and the World Cup in particular.
He said: “Every four years half of the world’s population unites to celebrate football because football is more than a game: Football is building bridges, it’s bringing people together, it is entertainment, it is emotion. Football inspires.
“The FIFA World Cup is a universal celebration of the world’s sport. There is no bigger event than FIFA’s World Cup.
“Now we are back where we should have been long ago, in Russia, in 2018. It will be a wonderful moment for the people of Russia, for the rest of the world and also for football.”
Blatter also said that each match would be preceded by the ‘Handshake for Peace’ between the teams despite the fact that the promoter, the Nobel Peace Centre, disowned its partnership with FIFA in the middle of last month.
An unabashed Blatter insisted: “The Handshake for Peace will form an integral part of the match protocol at the FIFA World Cup and it will be more than a message, it will be gesture of respect, friendship, fair play and peace.”
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