Vladimir Putin held secret meetings with at least a third of the 22 executive committee members of football's governing body Fifa, which last week handed Russia the right to host the 2018 World Cup, it emerged yesterday.
"Putin didn't just give his support to the bid, like the leaders of the other countries that were competing. During the campaign, he met a third of the members of Fifa's executive committee, at a minimum," said Vyacheslav Koloskov, a former head of the Russian Football Union and a member of the Russian bid team. "We kept this a secret, and it is only now 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 ahead of the vote. Mr Putin said he wanted the committee members to make the decision "objectively without any pressure from the outside" – a statement at odds with Mr Koloskov's account. Instead, Mr Putin flew to Zurich after the result of the vote was announced and held a victory press conference.
Mr Putin also used Fifa's fear of British journalism to his advantage, criticising "an obvious campaign" against executive committee members, who had been "smeared". The Prime Minister was referring to the BBC's Panorama documentary, aired in the week of the vote, which accused senior Fifa officials of corruption.
The controversial Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, one of the figureheads at the centre of corruption allegations, voted for the Russian bid. It is believed that he met Mr Putin in Moscow shortly before the vote, when the Prime Minister promised that he would visit Mr 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," Mr Warner told a newspaper at the weekend.
Russia's Finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, has said that about £6bn 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. Mr Putin has made it clear that he expects big business and oligarchs to help out with the cost, including the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich.
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