Putin driving Russia World Cup bid
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is "the engine" driving
forward his country's bid to host the football World Cup in 2018,
sports minister Vitaly Mutko said Thursday.
Mutko told The Associated Press that Putin could help present Russia's case at FIFA headquarters on Dec. 2 before a vote to decide the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.
"He is the engine of this bid," said Mutko, speaking after a meeting of FIFA's ruling executive. He is one of 24 committee members who will choose the two winning candidates.
Putin is a proven winner in sports politics. His English-speaking part in Sochi's presentation to International Olympic Committee members three years ago was judged crucial in swinging votes that got the Black Sea resort hosting rights for the 2014 Winter Games.
"He does everything that he can to support our bid," Mutko said through a translator. "The same is applicable to the president of our country."
Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have met FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Moscow in recent months, leading many to consider Russia a favorite in the 2018 contest that is likely to be awarded to Europe.
FIFA insists all candidates have government support to host the four-yearly event that earns billions of dollars for the game's governing body, and invariably costs billions in infrastructure expenses to stage.
Mutko said Russia's bid was a national priority.
"The World Cup is a fundamental factor in the development of the country," he said. "Even if Russia will not win the right to host the World Cup, we will continue to develop sports infrastructure, stadiums and hockey palaces."
He said state funds would not be over-stretched by adding the World Cup to extensive construction projects in Sochi and Kazan, which hosts the 2013 World University Games.
"They are proof to FIFA ... that if Russia takes up certain commitments, it fully fulfills them," Mutko said.
Bid leaders have not put a price on widespread modernization needed in its proposed 14 host cities clustered in five areas of western Russia: northern, southern, central, Volga River and Urals mountain regions.
Details will be published when Russia and its nine rivals present their bid books to FIFA in Zurich on May 14.
Mutko accepted that the three other European bids - England, Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium - were ahead with existing stadiums, transport links and hotels.
But he said Russia offered a greater legacy by developing the sport and opening new markets in the former Soviet republics of Europe and central Asia.
"(The World Cup) should go to new regions, and open new frontiers," said Mutko, adding that Russia wanted to make more friends.
"We want to show to the world the new Russia, open and hospitable in every sense."
Russia, Australia, England, Japan, United States, plus the Spain-Portugal and Netherlands-Belgium joint bids have applied to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Indonesia, Qatar and South Korea are bidding for 2022 only.