Russian leader blasts England World Cup bid

AFP, Wednesday 1 Dec 2010

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused England on Wednesday of trying to snatch the right to host the 2018 football World Cup through a coordinated smear campaign against FIFA executives


Announcing that he would stay away from Thursday's crunch vote in Zurich to avoid putting pressure on the 22 member FIFA executive committee, Putin showered praise on the sport's world governing body as it announces the 2018 and 2022 host sites.

Bookmakers have made Russia the front-runner for the right the 2018 event ahead of England and joint bids by Spain and Portugal and Holland and Belgium.

And in a clear reference to the English submission, Putin said that recent allegations by the British media of corruption among FIFA's executive committee were part of a concerted effort to tilt the playing field.

"I would like to note that recently we have watched with disappointment as an obvious campaign was being unleashed against members of the FIFA executive committee," Putin said in nationally-televised remarks.

"They are being smeared in dirt and compromised. … I interpret this as (a method of) unfair competition.

"We believe that such methods of competition are entirely unacceptable," he added, without specifically naming any of Russia's rivals.

Putin has spearheaded Russia's campaign to host the event just as he had in case of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which were awarded against long odds to the Russian summer resort town of Sochi.

Football commentators here have said that Russia's entire campaign rests on Putin's charisma and diplomatic weight, but the prime minister said he would stay away from the northern Swiss city so as not to unduely influence the vote.

"I would love to represent our entry in person," said Putin, who led the lavish Russian delegation at the 2014 Winter Olympics announcement in Guatemala.

"However, under these circumstances, I think it would be best not to go out of respect for the members of the FIFA executive committee, so that they could make their decision in peace and without any outside pressure."

A report by the BBC late Monday alleged three committee members—Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, African football chief Issa Hayatou and South America's Nicolas Leoz—received secret payments from a marketing firm over a decade ago. Hayatou is also a member of the IOC, which oversees the Olympic Games.

The British broadcaster also accused a fourth FIFA executive committee member, Trinidad's Jack Warner, of attempting to sell World Cup tickets on the black market.

The new allegations came only weeks after FIFA suspended two other executive committe members following a report by Britain's Sunday Times newspaper on vote buying opportunities in the bidding process.

The leaders of England's bid have tried to distance themselves from the reports, denouncing the BBC as being "unpatriotic."

The controversy has touched a nerve in Russia, which has never hosted the World Cup as either an independent country or part of the Soviet Union.

The media here point out that the event has never touched Eastern European soil, suggesting that the corruption allegation may somehow be aimed at hurting the chances of the world's less-developed states.

Putin for his part took pains Wednesday to praise the world governing body for doing important social work and helping take kids off the streets.

"This is the most popular sports in the world and it helps take the young away from drugs, off the streets, and away from alcohol."

Russia has completed or updated only a fraction of the 15 soccer facilities for its 13 proposed host cities.

But Putin vowed to finish Russia's preparation on time and to consult closely with FIFA officials in the progress.

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