Blatter was speaking during a visit to Sochi, the city in southern Russia which is set to play host to a series of World Cup matches in 2018, according to The Guardian. The city also hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014, which saw protests linked to Russia’s human rights record.
Blatter confident about Russia 2018
“I am a happy and proud president. I am proud that Russia is getting ready to host the World Cup,” Blatter told the Tass news agency, which is based in Sochi. “A lot of this is happening thanks to President Vladimir Putin, but also due to the sports minister [Vitaly] Mutko and [Alexei)]Sorokin (the chief executive of the Local Organising Committee). They are a true team and have a wonderful working relationship,” he continued.
Blatter has been working for Fifa for over 40 years, and Russia 2018 will be the tenth World Cup that has taken place during that time. He predicts that it will be a “wonderful” event, and moved to deflect criticism of the decision to allow the World Cup to take place in the country. “Some people are wanting the World Cup to be taken away from Russia but we will give one answer to this – we are involved in football and we will not allow politics to get in the way,” he said.
International criticism due to Ukraine crisis
World figures have called for the World Cup to be moved away from Russia due to the country’s actions during the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, but Blatter has refused to be influenced by them. “If a few politicians are not particularly happy that we are hosting the World Cup in Russia, then I always tell them: ‘Well then, stay at home,’” he continued.
Blatter is impressed with the progress that Russia has made in readying itself for the tournament, which will be hosted in 11 different cities across the country. “Your organizing committee and you personally deserve five stars,” he said to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier in April, a group of U.S. senators petitioned Fifa to move the World Cup to a different host country. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also called for a boycott of the event unless Moscow agrees to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian soil, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of supporting separatist rebels in the east of the country.
Blatter focusing on World Cup
International opposition does not seem to bother Blatter, whose only concern is seemingly the success of the tournament. “Everything is going to plan and nothing will get in the way of Russia hosting the best ever World Cup. The economic situation is not the best but I know it will get better. The main thing is that the people of Russia are organizing this tournament. The people want this championship to go ahead and I personally feel this,” claimed Blatter.
Sochi will join a group of 10 other cities which will host matches during a tournament set to run from 14 June to 15 July 2018. President Vladimir Putin also seems optimistic about Russia’s chances of hosting a successful World Cup, drawing on the country’s recent experience of hosting the Winter Olympics. “We hosted the [Winter] Olympics last year and now Russia has before it a large, if not to say huge task of preparing for the 2018 world championship in football. These events are no less of a large scale than the Winter Olympic Games,” Putin said.
Sporting events draw attention to dubious human rights record
International sporting events tend to draw attention to the human rights record of host countries, as was the case during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Some world politicians chose to protest Russia’s poor record by boycotting the event.
It seems that the 2018 World Cup will draw similar protests, with leading figures expressing their dismay at the levels of racism among Russian soccer fans. Incidents linked to racism are common at soccer matches in Russia, and there has even been talk of black players boycotting the World Cup in protest.
Fifa’s decision making processes have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years after allegations of widespread corruption among top officials. The decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia was actually less controversial than the fact that the 2022 edition will be held in the desert kingdom of Qatar. The tournament may have to be held during the northern hemisphere’s winter months in order to avoid the searing desert heat, and an investigation into alleged vote rigging during the decision making process was effectively shut down by Fifa itself.