Blatter Will Attend the World Cup. 'It Will Be a Sporting and Diplomatic Mission.'

  • Football
  • Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018

MOSCOW — Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former president of FIFA whose dramatic fall from power corresponded with revelations of widespread corruption among the organization’s top officials, will attend the World Cup in Russia as a personal guest of President Vladimir Putin.

Blatter, who is serving a six-year ban from all soccer-related activities after an investigation into ethical breaches during his nearly 20-year presidency, will arrive here on or around June 20, he said in a telephone interview.

“I will be in Moscow first and it will be very nice,” he said. “I will stay in Moscow.”

Asked if he would see Putin, he said: “Sure, I will see him. I am his guest. We will meet somewhere, but I don’t know where yet because they refuse to disclose the exact location. It will be a sporting and diplomatic mission for me.”

Reviled by many soccer fans, Blatter remains a popular figure in Russia after backing the country’s efforts to stage the World Cup during a controversial bidding process in 2010, which also ended with Qatar’s securing the rights to hold the tournament in 2022.

Blatter, 82, has an open invitation from Putin to attend the monthlong tournament, though he will skip the first game when the host country meets Saudi Arabia in front of a packed house at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Putin and other Russian officials remained vocal defenders of Blatter even after his ouster, which was precipitated by a set of sprawling Department of Justice indictments in 2015 that accused several senior soccer officials of corrupt practices. Several of them were arrested in early morning police raids at their Zurich hotels.

Days after Swiss police officers arrested several top soccer officials at the request of U.S. investigators in May 2015, Putin accused the Americans of trying to sabotage Blatter’s bid for re-election, which was to be held the same week.

The Kremlin reiterated its welcome last year to Blatter, with Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov,saying “old friends” were welcome to attend the World Cup this summer. Blatter wanted to make the trip from his home in Zurich to reciprocate the warm wishes he has received from Putin.

UEFA faced a similar situation with a banned former leader in 2016 when former French star Michel Platini — banned along with Blatter in the FIFA scandal — wanted to attend the European Championship in his home country.

Officials from UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe, sought clarification from FIFA’s ethics judge to make sure his attendance would not be a violation and the sides came to an agreement that allowed Platini to sit in a luxury suite among politicians. But he was to be kept away from soccer officials at the matches and FIFA will face the same issues with Blatter.

For FIFA’s current president, Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s presence would likely be an unwelcome distraction as he continues his push to improve the organization’s image and to stamp his own authority on the scandal-plagued organization.

Asked last week whether he would mind sitting alongside Putin with Blatter, Infantino asked reporters if “you have any other questions” before letting out a long, nervous laugh and then adding, “Everyone is welcome.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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