by Malcolm Curtis
Swisster.ch |December 3, 2010 | 10:43
After abstaining from participating in a presentation to FIFA, Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, travels to Zurich to celebrate his country’s selection as host for the 2018 World Cup football tournament. The decision, warmly welcomed by Russian expats in Switzerland, prompts anger and outrage in England, while questions linger over the choice of Qatar for the 2022 championship.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin finally travelled to Switzerland on Thursday night to celebrate his country’s selection as host for the 2018 World Cup. Earlier in the day, the executive council of FIFA, the world’s governing body for football based in Zurich, chose Russia, in addition to Qatar for the 2022 edition of the tournament, crushing hopes in both England and America that their bids would prevail.
The news, announced by Sepp Blatter, the football association’s Swiss president, was warmly received by Switzerland’s Russian community. “It gives us a good reason to go back for a visit,” Ludmila Cloth, a journalist for Nasha Gazeta, the Geneva-based Russian-language website, told Swisster.
Cloth noted that Russians living in Switzerland are free to travel to Russia and flight connections between the two countries are convenient. Putin issued a statement on Wednesday saying that he would abstain from travelling to Zurich for the selection of the host countries.
But he quickly flew to the city after learning his country had won, making a speech that began with “grüzi”, the German-Swiss word for hello. Putting in an additional pitch for the attributes of Russia’s bid, Putin noted that all spectators with tickets for the 2018 World Cup would be entitled to free train transport between the country’s different venues, which include Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
He also said fans would not need a visa to enter the country. The former Russian president earlier said he did not want to put pressure on the FIFA committee ahead of their long-awaited decision.
“I truly would like to present our bid, but under present circumstances and out of respect to the members of the FIFA Executive Committee, I decided to refrain from going to Zurich to allow them to make important decisions calmly and without pressure,” Putin said.
His non-appearance apparently did not hurt the chances of Russia, which was favoured to win selection for the 2018 tournament against entries by England, the Netherlands, Belgium and a combined bid from Spain and Portugal. Russia, which promised to make football “history”, was selected in the second round of voting.
The English team, led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, soccer star David Beckham and Prince William, failed to survive the first round of voting. The British media response to the voting was one of shock and disbelief and a feeling, as one tabloid put it, that the decisions were “fixed”.
The English delegation felt a backlash against the UK media over alleged FIFA corruption may have been a factor in the voting. The World Cup selection process was marred by a scandal that led to the suspension of two members of the the football body’s executive committee and four other officials.
This followed damaging reports from The Sunday Times that said FIFA vice-president Reynald Temarili, from Tahiti, and Nigerian committee member Amos Amadu would accept money for their vote on the host countries. The pair have denied the accusations and the Swiss head of FIFA’s ethics committee, Ticino lawyer Claudio Sulser, accused the newspaper of “twisting the facts”.
But Temarili and Amadu were nonetheless suspended last month for violating the organization’s “fair play” guide of ethics, although they have the right to appeal the decision. Former English manager Terry Venables charged that the World Cup selection decision was a sham.
“Maybe we should not be surprised that Russia got the vote,” Venables said in a column for The Sun tabloid. “After all, FIFA and the KGB are just about the last two secret organizations on the planet.”
Meanwhile, Beckham, currently playing soccer in Los Angeles, also supported the losing American bid for 2022 along with a delegation that included former US president Bill Clinton. The Americans were unable to overcome a lavish proposal from Qatar, a tiny oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf, that is promising to build 12 air-conditioned stadiums to combat the scorching desert heat.
The country’s entry will bring the world’s most popular sports event to the Middle East for the first time, but in a region where football is little played. The high summer temperatures in Qatar made its prospects initially seem unlikely but it mounted a solid campaign that calls for planned investments of around 50 billion francs.