Russian President Vladimir Putin is clearly not happy about the unfolding FIFA bribery scandal. In comments on Wednesday and Thursday, Putin took a belligerent tone, decrying American over-reach in the charging of a number of foreign nationals with violations of U.S. law, and the immediate extradition of these individuals to the United States for trial.
Putin’s outburst and his general displeasure with the FIFA scandal coming to light right now are quite understandable, of course, as Russia could possibly lose the right to host the 2018 World Cup tournament if the investigations turns up criminal activity in the host country selection process.
However, there has been no evidence of bribery in the selection of Russia as the 2018 World Cup host nation to date, and a FIFA spokesperson said Wednesday “Russia and Qatar will be played.”
Statement from Russian President Putin
“These officials are not US citizens,” Putin pointed out. “And if they committed anything, it wasn’t on US territory. The United States has nothing to do with it. This is yet another obvious attempt to spread their jurisdiction to other countries. And I also have no doubt that this is an obvious attempt to prevent Mr. Blatter from being re-elected as FIFA president.”
Major sporting events are important to Putin
“Putin has had a long-standing policy of trying to get as many international, high-profile sporting events as possible in Russia,” commented Ben Judah, a contributing writer for Politico Europe and expert on Russia. “He believes it makes Russia look like a superpower.”
Judah believes Putin is worried that the FIFA that the FIFA bribery scandal could lead to changing the host nation or even cancelling of the World Cup. By the same token, a number of people and organizations were already calling for a boycott of the 2018 World Cup in Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine and poor human rights record, and the ongoing corruption scandal gives the activist campaign additional impetus.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter pulls no punches in Friday comments
FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s opening address to the 2015 FIFA Congress was both blunt and apologetic. He apologized for the scandals under his watch, but emphasized that the organization and the sporting world must pull together to get through this difficult time.
“On Dec 2, 2010, here in Zurich, when we decided on the two World Cup hosts in one session, if two other countries had emerged from the envelope, I think we would not have these problems today,” Blatter noted. “But we cannot go back in time, we are not prophets, we cannot say what would have happened, he added.
Analysts point out that Russia was chosen as the host nation for the 2018 World Cup and Qatar for the 2022 games at the same meeting in Zurich in 2010.
Interestingly, Blatter also bluntly questioned the timing of Wednesday’s arrest of seven soccer officials, including FIFA VP Jeffrey Webb, just two days before the FIFA Congress was to open.
“It’s not good for all of this to emerge two days before FIFA presidential elections,” he said.
“I’m not going to use the word coincidence but there is a small question mark,” Blatter, who is standing for re-election later in the day, noted drily in his address to the FIFA Congress early on Friday.
Of note, Blatter’s comments were interrupted by a female protester who jumped up and unfurled a Palestinian flag. She started to shout at Blatter before she was escorted away.
Blatter appeals for unity after FIFA bribery scandal
“Today, I am appealing to unity and team spirit so we can move forward together,” Blatter continued to say. “It may not always be easy, but he we are here together today to tackle the problems that have been created. We are we are here to solve them.”
He went on: “We are at a turning point. We cannot constantly supervise everybody that is involved in football. We have 209 national associations, six continental confederations, we have more than 300 million active participants, men and women, and with families and friends, we reach a figure of 1.6 billion people directly or indirectly touched by our game.”
Blatter concluded: “It’s a matter of trust, of commitment, of having the will to do it … so let us believe, let’s go for it, let’s repair what has been dropped. I appeal to all of you to join us the executive committee and president, to put FIFA back on the right track and where the boat will stop rocking and go placidly into port.”