Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s says he will not attend the World Cup vote in Zurich because he does not want to be involved in “unfair competition”.
Putin was expected to travel to Zurich as a figurehead of the government, but Russia will send First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov in his place.
The Russian premier has blamed a smear campaign for his refusal to travel, which has been interpreted as a criticism of the BBC’s Panorama programme which accused three FIFA executive committee members of taking bribes.
“I view that as unfair competition,” Putin said. “Such methods we consider to be absolutely inadmissible. Recently we have unfortunately seen a clear campaign against members of the FIFA executive committee.”
The Russians are favourites to come out on top, just ahead of England and Spain/Portugal. and Netherlands/Belgium. Putin will be the only head of government from the 2018 bidding nations not to be present.
“I would love to represent our entry in person,” he told ministers in Moscow. “However, under these circumstances, I think it would be best not to go out of respect for the members of the FIFA executive committee, so that they can make their decision in peace and without any outside pressure.”