ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) - FIFA’s embattled president Sepp Blatter is “a victim” and “a very brave person”, the chief executive of the 2018 Russian World Cup organizing committee said on Friday.
Blatter is in St Petersburg for Saturday’s World Cup qualifying draw, his first foreign trip since soccer’s ruling body became the subject of criminal investigations into allegations of systemic corruption.
The 79-year-old Swiss is standing down in February as a result of the crisis.
“He has always been a friend of our country,” Alexei Sorokin told the BBC. “We are certain everything he’s doing is for the good of FIFA to which he has dedicated his life.
“Unfortunately, he decided to take up responsibility himself for certain things which are not within his responsibility.”
The bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups are being investigated in the U.S. and Switzerland, leading to media speculation that Russia and Qatar could be stripped of hosting the finals and a new vote ordered.
Sorokin said the controversy was “casting shade on the most cherished FIFA product, the World Cup, without any grounds.
“It’s a purely blown-up matter which hurts us,” he added. “It keeps lingering on in the media and in people’s minds and that is really disappointing.
“We need to focus. It’s time to go on and stop rubbing it in and discussing this.”
Sorokin also denied suggestions the Russian bid team destroyed computers when FIFA launched its own internal inquiry into the allegations of corruption.
“They (the computers) were not destroyed,” said Sorokin. “The truth is they became obsolete and they were naturally discarded.
“I understand there is regrettably such an atmosphere created a long time ago around Russia that creates suspicions that we don’t deserve.
“That is the biggest challenge that we live with, stereotypes, and part of our job is to overcome these stereotypes about Russia. We believe we are doing that,” said Sorokin.
Writing by Tony Jimenez, editing by Ken Ferris