KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Gianni Infantino believes that the 2018 World Cup has wrought a sea change in international opinion about host nation Russia.
The president of the world football federation told a media briefing that Russia itself, a nation of 144m people in a landmass of 17m sq.km, had been changed by the World Cup.
He said: “Russia has become a real football country, a country where football is not only the World Cup whose organisation has been excellent but where it has become part of the country’s dna, thanks to the performance of the national team but also where the infrastructure is extremely beautiful and efficient.
“The legacy will put Russia on the top of countries in football around the world because what has been built here is for the future and there are concrete plans to make sure the stadia will continue to live in this country.”
In fact, the modern game was introduced to the country by the English Charnock family at their textile mills in Orekhovo, near Moscow, in Tsarist days and the former Soviet Union won Olympic gold in 1956 and was a force in the World Cup from their finals debut in 1958.
Infantino continued to explain why he believed the world at large now looked at Russia with different eyes.
He said: “This World Cup has changed the perception of the world of Russia. Millions of people have been in Russia, in all the host cities, and everyone has discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, a country rich in culture and history of humankind.
“We have seen it and discovered it in all the cities. This has been a great adventure and I’m sure the hundreds of thousands who came have all enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere in Russia and I think a lot of preconceived opinions have changed thanks to this World Cup because everyone has seen the true nature of all the people here in Russia.”
He fended off a question over where the world federation drew its ‘moral red line’, considering Russia’s human rights record and military involvements, by promoting football’s facility as a platform for dialogue.
Infantino said: “There are many injustices in the world generally. Many things are not working as citizens would like them to work. Many things we would like to change, that we are not happy with in the world and that we have to try to change for the good. But here, at the World Cup, we are focusing on celebrating football.
“I think one of things we are missing in the world is the capacity to speak to each other, to have a dialogue and that is the basis to solve some of these issues.
“If football and the World Cup can open some channels to help those who take the important decisions for our world to start to speak to each other, then I think we have done something or given a contribution.
“Football cannot solve all the problems in the world, football cannot change the past, but it can have an impact on the future.”