Berlin: Fifa president Gianni Infantino says he has seldom seen a World Cup host as committed as Russia is to make the tournament a success.
“I have rarely been as relaxed as now,” Infantino said, dismissing political and other problems which have made the World Cup in Russia controversial, as he looked forward to the tournament which begins next week. When the 32-team 64-match quadrennial event kicks off in Moscow on June 14 the focus will be on football rather than issues such as human rights, doping or hooliganism, Infantino told dpa and other international news agencies.
Speaking in Zurich, Infantino said ahead of his first World Cup as Fifa president: “I am very happy about what we can expect.
“Russia wants to prove to the world at this World Cup that it is an open country, where people can come, where people can celebrate, football can celebrate.
“Russia has a lot to offer — history, culture. I have been organising tournaments for 20 years now and I have never experienced a country which does as much to make fans welcome, with the fan-ID, free visa, free transport between and at venues on match days.”
Infantino played down possible problems during the tournament, which is being played in 11 Russian cities, with the final in Moscow on July 15.
“As far as Fifa is concerned, we focus on football. It does not matter to us,” he said in reference to political issues, and possible boycotts by international political figures opposed to the policies of President Vladimir Putin. “No, when the ball rolls, the world will focus on football. Politics does not have to worry us then. People are happy when their team wins, they are sad when it loses,” he said.
Following claims Russian footballers were also affected in investigations into state-sponsored doping which followed the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Infantino said Fifa had done “everything” with regards to testing in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“At the World Cup, all players are tested, for blood and urine,” he said.
“All tests take place without the influence of Russia. We’re doing everything with added heightened attention because of the situation in the past.” Infantino said he did not expect fan violence despite a problem with hooliganism in Russia. Security measures will be high and there was good cooperation between police forces of several countries.
“You cannot guarantee everything, but I would not recommend anyone going to to Russia with the intention of making trouble,” he said.
Speaking on the rival bids to host the 2026 World Cup by Morocco and US-Mexico-Canada, Infantino said the Fifa Congress meeting in Moscow on June 13 will “take the decision which is right for football.”
The process has followed the recommendations of the Garcia report which investigated corruption allegations around the vote in 2010 by the then Fifa executive committee to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 to Qatar. “We are doing everything transparently, everything public,” Infantino said.
On the possibility of increasing the number of finalists in Qatar 2022 from 32 to 48 teams, four years before the 48-team 2026 World Cup, Infantino said: “The South American associations have made an interesting proposal. We have to look at it.
“If the Congress so decides, then it so decides. I find the proposal interesting, but of course more teams mean more stadiums, hotels. Is that possible in Qatar? You have to look at it.” Infantino is reportedly backing a mysterious $25 billion offer from investors for a reformed Club World Cup with up to 24 teams and a new global Nations League competition.
The plans have so far met stiff resistance but Infantino said if people feel changes are needed to the current Club World Cup and Confederations Cup “then we as Fifa will have to make suggestions on how it would be better.” — dpa