Despite concerns, full steam ahead for Russia World Cup

Mon Jul 27, 2015 12:44pm EDT
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By Mike Collett

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The preliminary round draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia marked both a first and last step on the road to the finals.

While Saturday's draw was the start of the countdown to the event, the announcement on the same day that FIFA's Executive Committee had endorsed Russia as the host nation was designed to end talk of it being stripped of the finals.

The decision by the heads of world soccer's governing body bore more weight, officials said, than U.S. and Swiss investigations into how Moscow won the bidding to host the tournament five years ago.

Even with Western governments concerned about Russia's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and human rights groups alarmed about racism in Russian soccer, it now looks all but impossible that Moscow will not host the World Cup.

"Even if there were any irregularities in the voting, and none have ever been proved or are likely to be, the only body that can take the World Cup away from Russia is FIFA's Executive Committee," a senior FIFA insider told Reuters on Monday.

"I think we can finally put that idea to bed."

Despite cutbacks in the budget for the month-long tournament taking place in 11 cities across the European part of Russia during June and July 2018, work is generally advancing rapidly on stadiums, roads, hotels and airports.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the Executive Committee had voted its "trust and confidence" in Russia as the host nation.   Continued...

FIFA's President Sepp Blatter shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) during the preliminary draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia July 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer