Russia has the power to unify scandal-hit world footballing governing body FIFA when the nation hosts the 2018 World Cup, the country’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has claimed today.
Mutko, who is a member of FIFA’s ruling Executive Committee and the head of the Russian Football Union (RFU), believes Swiss lawyer Gianni Infantino’s election as President of the organisation will also help repair the body’s tarnished reputation.
The RFU were widely thought to have voted for Infantino during last week’s Extraordinary Elective Congress in Zurich, though they had also reportedly been considering a last-minute switch to Shaikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa.
The 45-year-old from Brig will be tasked with overseeing the implementation of the extensive set of FIFA reforms, passed unanimously by the 207 Member Associations during the Congress, which are aimed at dragging FIFA out of the mire following a string of arrests and indictments on corruption charges.
The comments from Mutko, who is the head of the Russia 2018 Organising Committee, come despite the way in which the European nation won the rights to the tournament in 2010 remaining the subject of a criminal investigation.
The bid process for the 2022 tournament, awarded to Qatar, is also still part of an ongoing probe following allegations of vote buying.
The claims prompted American lawyer Michael Garcia to publish a report into the accusations.
Garcia, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, resigned from his role as FIFA’s independent ethics investigator in December 2014 after world football’s governing body decided not to release his report in full.
Instead, a 42-page summary was published, which cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing.
Infantino, who led an aggressive yet resourceful campaign for the top job at FIFA, confirmed that the two competitions would remain in Russia and Qatar respectively earlier this week.
“Infantino’s election will make it possible for us to normalise the situation in FIFA and around world football,” Mutko said.
“We’ve got a great deal of serious work in this direction ahead of us, and Russia is assigned a colossal role in this process.
“In fact, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be the new President’s first major project, the gem in the crown of world football.
“It may be that this will be a unifying tournament.
“The odds are that the process of reforming FIFA and restoring full confidence in this organisation will be completed by 2018 - and this may happen here in Russia.”
Russia is reported to have shaved a further six billion rubles (£56 million/$78 million/€71 million) from its spending for the tournament.