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Unravelling of Blatter's global web of power


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter share a joke in the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter share a joke in the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow.

Kommersant via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter share a joke in the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow.

After Vladimir Putin lashed out at the United States for attempting to "spread its jurisdiction to other states" and prevent Sepp Blatter's re-election, Russian officials and pundits greeted the news of the Fifa president's resignation with anger and disappointment. The sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, called Blatter's exit a "courageous decision with love for Fifa" and called for a new leader who can "defend Fifa from attacks".

Blatter had always got on well with the notoriously prickly Putin and, most importantly, he had been a firm supporter of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Now that Blatter has been "forced out" by the Americans, that World Cup "is under threat," tweeted television and radio host Vladimir Soloviev, summing up the anger around the issue in Russia.

Asked about the threat that the 2018 World Cup could be cancelled as a result of the Fifa corruption investigation, which the FBI has now extended to the Russia and Qatar World Cup bids, Mutko said that there could be no reason to do so as Russia was "realising all the obligations that we set for ourselves and Fifa".

"Who's considering cancelling it? You raise this question and answer it yourselves," Mutko said. "Everything is going according to plan. Russia is systematically preparing for the World Cup... There are no organisational defects here and I don't see any risks why Russia shouldn't hold the World Cup."

"We're not afraid of anything," the organising committee head, Alexei Sorokin, said. "We're organising the World Cup. If some are trying to take it away, that's their business."

At Luzhniki stadium, which was first opened in 1956 but is now being completely overhauled for the World Cup, leaving only the facade intact, construction workers were incredulous about the Fifa investigation and the calls to cancel the 2018 World Cup. "How can they? We had an agreement. We need to take out the Americans, and the English too," a worker who would give his name only as Fedul said. "Just let them try... If they cancel it, we'll get even."

"I've put so much of my soul, so much of my strength into this," said foreman Murat Akhmadiyev when asked about the threats to the football event due to be held in the stadium in three years. "But I won't worry because I will have built a great field. Russia will have something to be proud of."

The football historian Boris Dukhon called Blatter's resignation a "political hit" and said calls by some British politicians to cancel Russia's World Cup were a disgrace. "You had the 1966 World Cup, so why are you getting involved, let others have a chance," Dukhon said. "I'm afraid they will take the World Cup from us. Whether Blatter took bribes or didn't take bribes, what does it matter? Is everyone else totally clean?"

But Sergei, a die-hard fan of CSKA Moscow who works at a store selling the club's paraphernalia, said although he supports the World Cup in Russia, he was not upset by Blatter's resignation because he hates the functionaries in Uefa and Fifa, which he called a "mafia". "They think up all sorts of strange laws against Russia, penalties against us. We played a match without spectators because one black said they yelled at him," he added, referring to the Manchester City-CSKA match in Moscow that was played behind closed doors in October as punishment for racist chants directed at Yaya Toure and others.

Sports.ru correspondent Vlad Voronin said many Russians are angry and upset over Blatter's resignation "because of the tense political situation in Russia, and the negative relations America has with Russia". He said he did not believe the investigations were political and argued the cancellation of the 2018 World Cup remains unlikely unless "something very big, a very serious violation" is found in the selection process.

But another columnist was not so sure that Blatter's resignation and the investigation would not still impact on Russia. Writing in Russian Forbes, government adviser-turned-columnist Konstantin Gaaze argued that Blatter was being punished because he had "turned the federation into a giant machine for drawing out incentives and making money" in countries such as Russia and Qatar.

In Russia's official bid, Gaaze wrote: "Putin offered Blatter what no one else had ever offered him": a complete exemption from Russian taxes and customs for Fifa and all other organisations involved in the World Cup, an exemption to the Russian law against alcohol advertising and the right for Fifa employees to bring in and exchange any amount of currency without any limits or customs declaration.

"Now Blatter will have to pay for exploiting the dream of celebrating football in far-off corners of the planet," Gaaze wrote. "And for Russia it's probably time to prepare for a boycott of World Cup 2018, in case it's held not here, but in England."

© Observer

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