Putin hosts Infantino on final day of Russian visit

Putin hosts Infantino on final day of Russian visit

Caption Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with FIFA President Gianni Infantino as Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko looks on during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday. — Reuters

MOSCOW — FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, wrapping up a two-day visit to Russia in which he gave an overall positive assessment of the state of preparations for the 2018 World Cup.

The head of football’s world governing body told Putin that he had seen “progress” in Russia’s preparations to host the tournament and praised the government for its work, Russian news agencies reported.

Infantino — who visited Moscow’s two World Cup venues during his visit — said Tuesday that preparations were “on track” but warned that hard work lay ahead to ensure the tournament is a success.

“If I compliment Russia it doesn’t mean that as of today or tomorrow Russia can sit down and wait until summer of 2018,” Infantino told reporters.

Russia’s preparations for the World Cup appear to be broadly on target despite delays being reported at some of the stadiums being built and the FIFA corruption scandal casting clouds over the tournament.

The bidding process for the tournament, as well as that of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, has come under scrutiny as part of twin Swiss and US corruption investigations into FIFA’s practices.

Moscow has portrayed the US probe that saw FIFA officials arrested last year as a Western-orchestrated attempt to strip Russia of the right to host the World Cup.

“We fought for the right to host this major event openly, honestly, with the desire to promote the wonderful ideals of football, which is probably the most popular sport in the world,” RIA Novosti state news agency quoted Putin as telling Infantino.

Putin added that Russia would use the World Cup to “build relations” with participant countries.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko earlier Wednesday, Infantino reiterated that Russia would not be stripped of the tournament in spite of the controversy.

“The World Cup 2018 will take place in Russia, of course,” he said. “The decision has been taken six years ago almost. It is now my job as FIFA president together with minister Mutko and the Russian population to make sure that we deliver the best ever World Cup in Russia.”

Infantino is now heading to Qatar to meet with government officials and the organizing committee of the 2022 tournament. — AFP