MOSCOW: 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 which is also to decide who will host the 2022 tournament.
Russia has been picked as the front-runner by bookmakers for the right to host the 2018 event, coming in ahead of bids by England and joint submissions from Spain and Portugal and Holland and Belgium.
But in a clear reference to the English bid, Putin said that recent allegations by the British media of corruption among FIFA's executive committee were part of a concerted campaign 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,” said Putin in televised remarks to his cabinet.
“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 said he would have liked to have attended the vote in the northern Swiss city on Thursday but had decided to stay away in order not to put undue influence on FIFA's decision-makers ahead of the secret ballot.
“I would love to represent our entry in person,” Putin said.
“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”.
Russia has never hosted the event and its bid is being championed personally by Putin, who also helped secure the 2012 Winter Olympics for the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
Putin praised the world governing body for doing important social work and helping take kids off the streets through sports.
“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.
“If the choice is made in favour of our country, then I will unquestionably immediately meet with President (Sepp) Blatter and members of the FIFA executive committee, and we will jointly discuss our plans for organising the 2018 World Cup in Russia.”
Channel News Asia