MOSCOW — Sepp Blatter, the outgoing president of football’s besieged governing body, told Vladimir Putin that FIFA has “complete trust” in Russia’s ability to host the 2018 World Cup.
“We say ‘yes’ to Russia,” Blatter said during a meeting with the Russian leader near St. Petersburg on Saturday. “Our support is especially important during the current geopolitical situation,” Blatter said.
The meeting was held just hours before FIFA picked the preliminary draw for most of its confederations at Konstantinovsky Palace near Putin’s hometown. It’s the first time Blatter has left Switzerland since seven current and former football officials were arrested in Zurich in May. Blatter announced plans to step down days after winning a fifth term. Elections to replace him will be held in February.
Much of FIFA’s troubles stem from the awarding of World Cup rights in 2010, when Russia and Qatar were selected to host the next two tournaments. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating what it says are more than two decades of “rampant” corruption, while Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal probe of the group.
Putin has criticized the investigations as an attempt to undo Russia’s selection as host of the world’s most-watched sporting event for the first time. The U.S. and its allies slapped sanctions on Russia last year for annexing Crimea from Ukraine and supporting an armed uprising in two mainly Russian-speaking regions on its border.
“As promised,” Putin told Blatter on Saturday, “we will do all we can for sportsmen and fans alike to feel at home here.”
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