Sat, Jun 23, 2018 - Page 16 News List

FIFA World Cup: Sepp Blatter revels in visit to World Cup and Putin

AP, MOSCOW

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter came to Moscow and saw Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, defying FIFA’s wish that Blatter’s visit to the World Cup would attract little attention.

Blatter said he went to see Putin after watching Portugal’s 1-0 win over Morocco in Moscow on Wednesday — wearing the laminate fan ID card required for all people attending games in Russia.

“We had small talks,” Blatter told reporters on Thursday. “We spoke about football and the good start of the competition, the good start of the team.”

The 82-year-old Blatter is serving a six-year ban from official soccer duties for financial misconduct during this 17-year rule.

The terms of the ban, which runs until October 2021, meant Blatter was kept separate from his successor, Gianni Infantino, and other soccer officials at Luzhniki Stadium.

Fulfilling a long-standing personal invitation from Putin to attend the World Cup, Blatter was yesterday to travel to St Petersburg to see Brazil play Costa Rica.

Blatter said it was “respectful” to be invited to the Kremlin, despite his suspension.

He was escorted to the meeting by his former FIFA executive committee colleague Vitaly Mutko, who is a deputy prime minister.

Blatter’s presence in Russia is awkward and a little embarrassing for the sport’s new leadership trying to rebuild its reputation after corruption-scarred years.

However, Blatter said that FIFA was not troubled by his five-day visit — his first public appearance outside Switzerland since a July 2015 trip to St Petersburg for the World Cup qualifying draw.

“The president of FIFA was informed personally by the president of the state here that he invites me and he has said: ‘OK, nothing.’ So I don’t think they are bothered,” he said.

However, Blatter joked about his relationship with Infantino, who is from a neighboring town.

“I have a very special relationship with Gianni Infantino,” he said. “It means we don’t speak.”

Blatter has had health scares since leaving office and clearly thrived on the attention from international media and fans in Moscow.

“I was in a shower of people because they have recognized I was once the president of FIFA,” he said. “To live these emotions for me was good, to say: ‘He is still alive.’ And here I am.”

FIFA has declined comment on details of Blatter’s visit, saying it took note of his arrival.

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