KEIR RADNEDGE in KAZAN —- Vitaly Mutko believes Russia has presented as near-perfect a World Cup organisational model as possible during the current Confederations Cup, the warm-up for next year’s ‘real thing.’
Mutko, in his role as head of the local organising committee, was speaking here in Kazan ahead of Russia’s decisive Group A Confederations clash with Mexico.
The former Sports Minister, now a Deputy Prime Minister, was presenting an interim assessment of the tournament which has seen healthy attendances in St Petersburg, Sochi and Moscow (Spartak) as well as the Tatar city which defines itself as the ‘sports capital’ of Russia.
Mutko said: “The organisation and conduct of the Confederations Cup has been at a very high level. We don’t have many problems and this is not only our own assessment but but also the opinion of FIFA.
“This tournament is very important for us to prepare for the World Cup and there are just some minor operational issues we have to solve.”
Attendances thus far had averaged at around 35,000 per match with around seven per cent of fans coming from abroad who had helped illustrate that the “security system works very well.”
Mutko acknowledged excellent support and cooperation from other European and foreign security and police services in pre-tournament screening. Some 354,000 ‘fan passports’ had been issued, mostly to Russians but including around 26,000 foreigners.
Among his various roles, Mutko is also president of the Russian Football Union and thus directly concerned with the performance of the national team which has been dismal at the finals both the last World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and the European Championship in France in 2016.
Both times Russia were eliminated in the group stage.
Mutko praised the improvement evident under new coach and former goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov and appealed for fans to rein in any criticism and get behind the team.
He said: “The Russian team have been moving in the right direction fo the last 18 months and starting to regain the trust of the fans. But football, without the fans’ support, is impossible.
“We have seen how the fans of Portugal and Chile and Mexico support their teams and how important it is that the players can hear that support from the stands behind them. We have great hopes from the new players in our team and it is interesting to see more young players coming through.”
In the autumn the federation would be launching an academy programme aimed to bring togetehr the best 14-year-old players from across Russia.
Mutko accepted that the value would not emerge in time for the World Cup for the next year. However it represented an investment in Russian football for the future so that the clubs, hopefully, would not lean so heavily on the foreign stars who restricted opportunities for young Russians.
At the moment each premier league team can field a maximum of six foreign players.
One factor which will be in evidence at the World Cup, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, is the video referee system and Mutko acknowledged that operational issues remained to be ironed out.
He hopes that it can tested in the new Russian league season but cost remained an issue.
He said: “After this tournament we will decide whether to use this system or not. I have applied for the use of such a system. But this is still in the experimental stage.
“Sometimes the number of repetitions may be harmful. For example, in our game against Portugal there were two moments when the Russian coach wanted the video referee to review some incidents but the referee did not allow him to do that.”
On one issue Mutko was unequivocal. His work as head of the World Cup local organising committee had been unaffected by his enforced exit from the FIFA governing council.
Mutko had been ruled inelgible to pursue re-election by the subsequently-sacked review panel chairman Miguel Maduro, the Portuguese former advocate-general of the European Court of Justice.
European federation UEFA is expected to vote Alexey Sorokhin, Russia’s World Cup organising ceo, to fill the vacancy.
Mutko said: “I haven’t felt any effects since my mandate ended in April. I don’t see any serious issues have arisen concerning my presidency of the organising committee. Anyway, in September there will be another election for the FIFA Council and I believe we will then have a representative on it again.”