MOSCOW - Russian Sports Minister Vitaly
Mutko believes his country needs the 2018 World Cup more than
any of its rivals to become a real football country.
"There's a certain philosophy in FIFA, that is to open new
frontiers and broaden the horizons," Mutko, who also sits on
FIFA's executive board, told Reuters in an interview at his
ministry's headquarters in central Moscow.
"Soccer is the world's most popular sport, therefore it must
leave a long-lasting legacy for a World Cup host," he said,
pointing to this year's event in South Africa. "I think from
that point of view Russia has a big edge over its rivals."
Mutko would not call Russia a favourite, however, saying it
faces "very tough competition" from England and joint bids from
Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands.
Russia needs a World Cup more than its Western European
rivals, Mutko said.
"There's no denying that England has all the football
tradition, the infrastructure, stadiums, etc but it has already
hosted a World Cup (in 1966).
"Spain is a beautiful country, it won the last World Cup but
it also hosted one (1982). Belgium and Netherlands also staged a
major event (co-hosting Euro 2000) recently," he said.
"On the other hand, Russia or the whole of Eastern Europe
for that matter, has never hosted a World Cup. And we need one
in order to improve our infrastructure, to build the stadiums,
to make us a real football country. This is what it's all
Mutko conceded that Russia also had its shortcomings.
"We have our minuses, just like all the other candidates,"
he said. "Our risk zones are the (insufficient) infrastructure,
transport and (lack of modern) hotels and airports.
"But Russia is a dynamic country with huge economic
potential and no one should have any doubt that everything would
be built on time."
Russia's bid has been criticised over transport and
infrastructure while England's has come under fire over training
venues and team hotels.
FIFA has also criticised the idea of co-hosting the finals
with Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands mounting joint bids.
Mutko also said a recent vote-selling scandal has damaged
FIFA's reputation and left a bitter taste.
FIFA's ethics committee is due to announce its verdict on
Thursday on two members of the executive committee, Nigeria's
Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, over allegations they
offered to sell their votes.
"Of course, it has affected our image," Mutko said.
"If you look back in history, such allegations are nothing
new. Since the dawn of civilisation one can find corrupt
officials, no society is immune to that.
"But as a member of the FIFA executive you should have a
certain image of yourself. I don't think anyone would try to
approach people like (committee member) Franz Beckenbauer or
(UEFA president) Michel Platini.
"But despite what's been said and done I strongly believe it
(the scandal) will not affect the (World Cup) vote," he added.
"Certain people want everyone to believe in a conspiracy
that if 'A' country won the vote was fair but if 'B' country won
then the process was corrupt. It just doesn't work like that."
Mutko, who as president of the Russian FA lured high-profile
Dutchman Guus Hiddink to coach the national team in 2006, did
not underestimate the task in hand, however.
"This time we face much tougher competition than Sochi," he
said referring to the Russian Black Sea resort's successful bid
to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"With all respect to the Winter Olympics, the World Cup is a
much bigger event. In my view it's even bigger than the Summer
Games because it has a much bigger television audience
Sochi's winning bid in 2007 was helped by then President
Vladimir Putin, who travelled to Guatemala to personally meet
members of the International Olympic Committee.
Mutko, a close friend of Putin, did not reveal if the Prime
Minister would follow the same script this time and make the
much shorter trip to Zurich for the vote on December 2.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) has already done a great
deal to help our bid by personally signing all government
guarantees, including financing, as well as dropping entry visa
requirements for players, officials and fans with valid
tickets," Mutko said.
"As far as him going to Zurich, all his plans have been kept
secret up to now but of course we're all hoping he'll be there.
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