FIFA president Gianni Infantino has confirmed the 2018 World Cup will go ahead in Russia.
The country’s right to host the tournament had come under scrutiny after a corruption scandal engulfed world football’s governing body, raising the prospect of the controversial bids to stage the 2018 and 2022 tournaments being re-examined.
Russian sport has been the subject of an investigation into allegations of widespread doping, while human rights issues and regional instability have also prompted concerns about the location of FIFA’s next showpiece event.
But Infantino, visiting the country after being elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor in February, has insisted the tournament will go ahead as planned and is determined to ensure it is the “best World Cup ever”.
“The World Cup 2018 will take place in Russia of course,” he said. “This decision has been taken six years ago almost.
“It is now my job as FIFA president, together with [Russian Sports] Minister [Vitaly] Mutko and all the Russian population actually to make sure we deliver the best World Cup ever here in Russia.”
Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova has been suspended from the sport after testing positive for banned substance meldonium, but Mutko is adamant the football spectacle will not be affected by concerns about performance-enhancing drugs.
“You know there has been a lot of talk about meldonium and doping issues, I would like to say that this in no way affects preparations for the World Cup and will not affect it, there is no doubt about this,” he said.
“Secondly, football – in the last few years we collected over two thousand tests from our footballers and overall there were only three instances of violations. So it is not at all typical in football.”
Infantino also took the opportunity to further distance himself from the so-called Panama Papers – the leak of millions of confidential files from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca – insisting it is a “non-story” because everything was carried out “legally”.
“I think it has already been clarified quite clearly that this story about these Panama papers was absolutely a non-story because everything was done completely legally, properly, transparently, openly, and this has already been said,” he said of being connected with the reports, which have focused on the use of offshore shell companies to facilitate tax avoidance.
“Actually, some journalists have already apologised to me, so I would like to thank those journalists for apologising to me for having written things which were a little bit exaggerated, so I don’t think at all that this will have any impact on what I’m doing.”
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