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Putin Not To Attend Russian 2018 Fifa World Cup Bid

By NBF News
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Sports fan Mr Putin took to the wheel of a Renault Formula One car recently

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has confirmed he will not be in Zurich for Russia's presentation to Fifa for the 2018 World Cup on Thursday.

He said he would have loved to have gone but Fifa should be left to make its decision “in peace and without any outside pressure”.

While Russia is tipped to win, a personal appearance by Mr Putin might have clinched it, correspondents say.

If successful, Russia will be hosting the World Cup for the first time.

The 22 officials on Fifa's executive committee will vote in secret on Thursday, after hearing presentations by the four bidders.

Russia has been favoured to win by bookmakers but faces formidable challenges from England and, jointly, Spain and Portugal. A joint Dutch-Belgian bid is regarded as a long-odds outsider.

No European states are bidding to host the 2022 tournament, which is also being decided by Fifa on Thursday.

'Unscrupulous competition'
Mr Putin said he had informed Fifa by telephone that a deputy prime minister, Igor Shuvalov, would make Russia's pitch, as previously scheduled.

“I would love to represent our entry in person,” he added.

“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.”

Without elaborating, Mr Putin said Russia had faced “unscrupulous competition” in the bid to host the World Cup.

Star power of its own is not enough to clinch decisions like Fifa 2018, as US President Barack Obama's visit to Copenhagen last year proved when Chicago lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro.

However, Mr Putin's presence was considered a crucial factor for Russia when Sochi won the right to stage the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Russia has promised visa-free travel for World Cup ticket-holders, participants and guests, and has an ambitious project of construction and improvement work for host cities which would stretch from Kaliningrad to Yekaterinburg in the Urals.

'Anti-Russian prejudice'
A shortage of budget hotel accommodation, huge distances between venues and a record of racism in domestic league football are often cited as potential weaknesses in its bid.

Writing on Russian sports website Sovetsky Sport on Wednesday, commentator Alexander Chernov rated his country's bid as by far the strongest, arguing that its key assets were the country's sheer scale and its marketing potential.

The chief obstacles were, he said, prejudice against Russia and a relatively late start for its bid.

The Russian commentator ruled out Spain/Portugal because of the two countries' economic woes while Netherlands/Belgium, he said, lacked international stature, notwithstanding their claim to be the most ecologically friendly hosts, boasting venues within cycling distance of each other.

While acknowledging England's claim to be the home of football and admiring the professionalism of their bid, Alexander Chernov saw the two chief obstacles to English success as being: “Russia, and their own English arrogance.”

Moscow successfully hosted two international football finals in the past – the Uefa Cup in 1999 and the Champions League in 2008. It also staged the 1980 Olympic Games.