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FIFA Chief Slams Calls to Boycott 2018 World Cup in Russia

Ukraine president Poroshenko and UK deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg are two leaders who have been at it. FIFA chief says autonomy of sport must be respected

VIENNA, March 24 (TASS) - Sepp Blatter, the president of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), slammed international politicians on Tuesday for their calls to boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia saying football was "a symbol of unity."

"Football should be united, sport should be united when it comes to boycotts," Blatter said addressing the XXXIX Ordinary UEFA Congress in Vienna. "Boycotts have never had any results."

"The autonomy of sports must be guaranteed," the 79-year-old FIFA president told delegates from 54 UEFA member states. "Football not only brings positive emotions, but also the strength to help solving conflicts and building bridges between east and west."

Last week at its session in Zurich FIFA Executive Committee said in its statement that there must be "a stop to interference by political bodies into the affairs of football’s governing bodies."

On March 16 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on his country's allies to consider boycotting the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia over the crisis in Ukraine’s east.

Calls to strip Russia of the right to host the World Cup in 2018 as a form of penalty regarding Moscow’s stance on the developments in neighboring Ukraine were voiced repeatedly last year on behalf Western politicians as well.

In particular, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in a July interview with the Sunday Times that it was "unthinkable" for the global football contest to take place in Russia and stripping the country of the event would be a "very potent political and symbolic sanction."

World football’s governing body, however, spoke against the possibility of relocating the 2018 World Cup insisting that the tournament in Russia could be "a force for good."

Russia is currently gearing up for the Preliminary Draw, which is the first major kick-off event ahead of the global tournament itself.

The draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Competition will be held on July 25 in Russia’s second largest city of St. Petersburg with a total of 208 nations having signed up for the participation in the event.

It will be for the first time in the history of World Cups, when all national teams registered for the Preliminary Draw. Russia as the hosting nation automatically qualified for the championship and therefore is not taking part in the preliminary competition.

The first major kick-start event of the 2018 World Cup will be held at the historic Konstantinovsky Palace, a stronghold of Russia’s rich culture located on the Gulf of Finland’s stunning shoreline. It used to serve in the 18th century as one of the residences of Russia’s imperial family.

Russia won the bid to host the 2018 World Cup over four years ago in a tight race against the joint bid from England, Portugal and Spain and the joint bid on behalf of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Russia selected 11 host cities to be the venues for the matches of the 2018 World Cup and they are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara.

The matches of the 2018 World Cup will be held between June 14 and July 15 at 12 stadiums located in the 11 mentioned above cities across Russia. Two of the stadiums are located in the Russian capital.

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