Putin to attend 2018 World Cup draw

Published July 22nd, 2015 - 11:49 GMT
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

The coming weekend is very much to the taste of Russia's President Vladimir Putin. On Sunday he is to visit the enclave of Kaliningrad for a naval display and Saturday he can play sporting host for the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw in St Petersburg.

"He will attend the ceremony," a statement from the Krelin said about Putin appearing at the football gala event alongside the likes of Ronaldo, Samuel Eto'o and Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff.

Details of Putin's role in the two-hour long draw show have not been revealed but he is scheduled to meet FIFA president Joseph Blatter, who is going on his first business trip abroad after seven FIFA functionaries were arrested in Zurich in May.

Putin and Blatter have never cast a shadow on their mutual respect. While the controversial Swiss skipped planned visits to tournaments in New Zealand and Canada, along with the forthcoming International Olympic Committee meeting in Malaysia, he will feel safe and among friends in Russia.

That Blatter would make the journey to Russia, hosts of the 2018 World Cup, was never in doubt. In recent weeks Blatter and Putin have been common targets for the western media, though with one small but decisive difference - Blatter will give up his office on February 26, 2016.

"The pressure was too great," the 79-year-old said in way of explanation. In contrast Putin's control of his own kingdom is beyond question.

For Putin, the date of the World Cup draw in his hometown St Petersburg, has been a fixed appointment for a long time. The tournament is a prestigious object for him, even allowing for criticism from the old world of football.

Putin has long been considered one of the most influential politicians in all of sport. Almost no Russian bids for events have been unsuccessful under his leadership, including the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, the gaining of a Formula One race in the same location, the world aquatic championships in Kazan from Friday and the 2016 ice hockey worlds in Moscow and St Petersburg.

And then in 2018 is the crown of all sporting events, the World Cup.

Beautiful pictures of celebrating athletes and cheering fans are intended to improve the tarnished image of Putin's Russia. And in this regard, the President spares no effort or expense - to secure the 2014 Olympics, he travelled 11,000 kilometres to Guatemala in 2007 and wooed officials in English and broken French.

With the World Cup, Putin hopes to convince investors to ignore accusations of corruption and bet positively on Russia's future. Government critics claim the sporting events are a one-man operation but the Kremlin points out renovations are made while new roads, railways and airport - all bringing jobs - are created.

Indeed, in all 11 host cities, from Kaliningrad to Yekaterinburg, are enjoying the benefit. But the Russian construction sector is notorious for cronyism and favours, and was strongly criticized by analysts Standard & Poor's.

In response to winning the bid to host the World Cup, ordinary citizens across the largest country in the world have reacted with patriotic enthusiasm. Deputies in state parliaments have called it the "final rebirth of Russia the sport world power."

The host cities already have billboards pointing towards the June 14-July 15, 2018, tournament and suggestions it could be reawarded - inevitably to a country in the west - are instantly dismissed.

"I never doubted our bid wouldn't succeed," Putin said after gaining the award in Zurich back in 2010.

And he does not doubt the tournament will now go ahead as planned, regardless what western critics say or those investigating FIFA for corruption find.

"FIFA has already said that football and sport stand apart from politics," Putin said. Vitaly Mutko, his sport minister, is on the FIFA executive committee and meets regularly with Blatter.

And the ambition after 2018? The tourist destination of St Petersburg is considering a bid for the Olympic Games. The show on Saturday for the draw is coming at just the right time.

© 2021 dpa GmbH

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