Russia Prepares For Draw As Troubles Pursue FIFA

Sepp Blatter and Vladimir Putin will appear at the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw in St Petersburg today as Russia celebrates and FIFA tries to escape its ongoing troubles.

The two men will make the opening speeches at the event held in one of Mr Putin’s favourite residences, the Konstantin Palace, originally built by Peter the Great.

They will formally meet earlier in the day on what is Blatter’s first overseas trip since some of his closest colleagues were arrested pending extradition to the United States on FBI indictments.

The draw will set the qualifying course for more than 140 nations including England, but the build up in Russia has been dominated by questions over the corruption crisis engulfing FIFA.

In his first public appearance for six weeks, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke revealed he will hold an emergency meeting to placate angry sponsors next month and said he expects to leave his job when Blatter is replaced in February.

Sponsor VISA increased the pressure on FIFA on Friday when its chief executive described planned reforms as “wholly inadequate”.

After Coca-Cola and McDonalds, VISA is the third of FIFA’s main sponsors to express disquiet, and Mr Valcke said he will meet with them to try and ease their concerns.

Mr Valcke also admitted that the crisis is preventing it from attracting new sponsors. FIFA had plans to sign 20 regional sponsors for the 2018 World Cup, but thus far it has not done a single deal.

He said: “The current situation doesn’t help to finalise any new agreements – that is a fact. And I’m sure until the election (of Blatter’s successor) on February 26 there will not be any major announcements.”

Of his own future he said: “Whoever becomes the new FIFA president should have a new secretary general – it is the most important relationship for any organisation.”

Russia’s organising committee says it has nothing to fear from an ongoing criminal investigation by the Swiss authorities into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments or a change of President.

It is certainly planning for the tournament to go ahead, with Mr Valcke describing preparations as “like a high-speed train”.

Russia’s ambition is clear at the new stadium in St Petersburg.

The 68,000-seat arena on Krestovsky Island is inspired by a flying saucer, has taken nine years to build so far and at a cost of nearly £400m is already five times over budget, but its scale is a statement of Russia’s intent.

This tournament is intended to modernise the country’s football, but also develop significant amounts of infrastructure.

Russia is not the first country to promise that a World Cup will be transformative, but unlike the previous hosts Brazil, it has a chance of succeeding.

Whether it delivers its plans within the £7bn federal budget set aside remains to be seen, but with Putin’s personal backing the project will be a priority.

Just how much authority Blatter retains as he continues his eight-month notice period, is less clear.

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