Russia pushes ahead with World Cup plans despite Blatter resignation

Agence France-Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA head Sepp Blatter look at the model of Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in October 2014.
Mikhail Klimentyev

Russia insisted Wednesday that it was pushing on with preparations for the 2018 World Cup despite the shock resignation of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, who is fiercely backed by the Kremlin despite a corruption scandal.

"The main thing is Russia is continuing preparations for the 2018 World Cup," said President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"All plans are being implemented, work is under way," Peskov told reporters.

Putin last week lashed out at the United States for a corruption probe into FIFA, alleging it was an attempt to oust Blatter after he resisted pressure to take away the 2018 World Cup from Russia.

A Swiss probe is investigating "irregularities" in the awarding of both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, sparking calls from some in the game for the bidding process to be re-run.

Putin's spokesman admitted that Blatter's resignation had "of course" caught the Kremlin by surprise.

"We still do not have any information about what the reason for this resignation was," Peskov said.

The 79-year-old Swiss official quit just days after being re-elected to a fifth term as president of FIFA on Friday amid an FBI corruption investigation that has zeroed in on the football chief.

Blatter has repeatedly pleaded his innocence and that of FIFA.

Asked if the Kremlin feared that the 2018 World Cup may be reconsidered, Peskov said: "We do not know who (will be) the new head of FIFA. He will appear not tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow but later, so let's not hurry."

Russia and the West are locked in their worst standoff since the Cold War over the Ukraine crisis and some hawkish US senators have demanded the 2018 event to be taken away from Russia.

'Aimed at Russia' 

The Kremlin has lavished vast sums on hosting international sporting events — most notably the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — that critics say are used to burnish Putin's image.

Russia's media has largely backed the Kremlin line over the FIFA scandal, painting it as part of a larger US-instigated plot against the country after Blatter's surprise decision to step down.

"They hit FIFA but aimed at Russia," said the front-page headline of Argumenty I Fakty weekly.

"The worsening of the relations between Russia and the West has been the true reason," the newspaper quoted Russia's lower house of parliament's deputy speaker Igor Lebedev as saying.

Government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta also blamed the United States for Blatter's resignation.

"Americans have never abandoned their attempts to overthrow the persons they dislike," the newspaper stated.

"And they didn't give up this time either. Even though Blatter's advantage looked overwhelming."

Amid the angry statements, however, some were also beginning to raise serious questions about whether the 2018 tournament will really go ahead.

"Sepp is gone. Does the World Cup stay?" asked leading sports daily Sovietsky Sport.