Soccer: Putin held secret talks with Fifa

By Shaun Walker

MOSCOW - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held secret meetings with at least a third of the 22 members of Fifa's executive committee, who last week handed Russia the right to host the 2018 World Cup, a member of the bid team revealed.

"Putin didn't just give his support to the bid, like the leaders of the other countries that were competing," said Vyacheslav Koloskov, former head of the Russian Football Union and a member of the Russian bid team.

"During the campaign, he met with a third of the members of Fifa's executive committee, at a minimum.

"We kept this a secret, and it's only now that we can reveal it. Basically, Putin's support was not just declarative, he was doing things every day."

The admission is all the more extraordinary given that the day before the vote in Zurich last week, Prime Minister Putin released an angry statement saying other bid teams were putting improper pressure on Fifa officials.

He said he would not travel to Zurich, and called on leaders of other countries not to do so, in comments that were a thinly veiled attack on the English bid team, and the arrival of David Cameron and Prince William in Zurich before the vote.

He said he wanted the committee members to make the decision "objectively without any pressure from the outside".

Instead, Putin flew into Zurich after the result of the vote was announced, and held a victory press conference.

Putin also used Fifa's fear of British journalism to his advantage, criticising "an obvious campaign" against Fifa executive committee members, who had been "smeared".

The Russian Prime Minister was referring to the BBC's Panorama documentary, aired in the week of the vote, accusing top Fifa officials of corruption.

Controversial Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, one of the Fifa figureheads at the centre of corruption allegations, voted for the Russian bid.

It is believed that he met Putin in Moscow shortly before the vote, when Putin promised that he would visit Warner's home island of Trinidad if the Fifa official supported Russia's bid.

"I told Mr Putin that if Russia won, he had to come to Trinidad and Tobago for at least one day, so we should see him here shortly," Warner told a newspaper at the weekend.

Russia's finance minister has said that around £6 billion ($12.4 billion) will be provided from the state budget towards the cost of hosting the World Cup, excluding money that will need to be invested in improving airports and roads.

Putin has made it clear he expects big business and oligarchs to help with the cost, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

- Independent

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