MOSCOW – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, whose country will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, insisted on Wednesday, the eve of the competition’s opening game, that soccer remained a non-political sport and that his country was ready to welcome fans from around the world.
The Kremlin chief gave a speech at the 68th FIFA convention, which was being held in Moscow and was scheduled to deliver a decision on which country will host the World Cup in 2026, for which there is a solo bid from Morocco and a collective bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“Russia upholds the principle that the sport remains on the outside of politics,” Putin told the crowd of delegates, including FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
He said the World Cup was a great opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of visiting soccer fans to get to know Russia’s traditions and make new friends.
Despite his talk of Russia being an “open country,” the governments of several nations, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Poland, Australia and Iceland have decided to boycott the opening game and will not send any officials for the duration of the tournament.
The tournament was set to kick-off Thursday at the Luzhinki Stadium in Moscow with a fixture between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Journalists and photographers who have traveled to the various World Cup venues have reported that there is a high presence of police, military and security guards everywhere.