- 40% of planned World Cup construction has already been completed or is under way
- FIFA has its own means of accountability and self-regulation - doesn't need external law enforcement
This article originally appeared in The Guardian
Speaking at the World Football Forum in Moscow on Thursday, Sorokin said Russia had presented a transparent bid and suggested that the corruption investigations and arguments against its World Cup were politically motivated.
Asked about a report by the Spanish sports publication AS that Fifa had suggested Qatar take on the 2018 World Cup, Sorokin said it was “ridiculous”, adding that Russia was “very deep in the preparation process”.
The organising committee told the Guardian this week that 40% of planned World Cup construction was under way or had already been completed.
“We just need to ponder in whose interest it is to draw up the bridge between us and our partners in Fifa,” Sorokin said. “Strangely this comes when a sizable Fifa delegation is in Samara, where we’re trying to prepare the World Cup together.”
During a visit to inspect World Cup facilities under construction in Samara on Wednesday, the Fifa secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, admitted he had authorised a $10m transfer on behalf of the South African organising committee of the 2010 World Cup to a Caribbean Football Union account run by the then-Fifa vice-president Jack Warner. The payment is some of the most damning evidence of corruption to emerge so far but Valcke said the payment was not a bribe.
Although the FBI said last week it was extending its investigation to include the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Sorokin said neither Swiss nor American investigators have contacted Russia.
“We do hear various urges and calls for a boycott, and it’s very disappointing,” he said. “As I have said, the direct victims of these urges are athletes preparing for four years and the fans looking forward to come to Russia and have a good experience, maybe the experience of a lifetime. Very seldom do we hear such urges from the football community. It’s done for politicians, and it’s very sad.”
Although he admitted “there was some criticism” about the 2018 and 2022 World Cup selection process, he said Fifa was able to deal with any problems on its own.
“It’s not necessary to put yourselves into some sort of hysteria or trance about all this. The organisation has the capability to self-regulate and possibly fix incorrect decisions made in the past. The participation of law enforcement organs isn’t necessary,” Sorokin said. “As far as the investigations go, that’s a different issue. Fifa handles billions of dollars. Naturally, there can be abuses in some places. Fifa isn’t an audit chamber or a prosecutor. It can’t keep track of every kopeck but Fifa does have a system to control expenditures.”
Sorokin’s comments came shortly before the resignation of the Fifa director of communications, Walter De Gregorio, a senior aide to the president, Sepp Blatter. The Fifa head had announced he would step down last week following the announcement of Swiss and US investigations into corruption at his organisation.
Sorokin said Russia was “puzzled” by the investigations into bribe-taking and the World Cup selection process, arguing that Russia had a “good, transparent bid” which was already verified by the Fifa-commissioned report on possible corruption during the selection of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The Fifa ethics investigator Michael Garcia quit in protest last year after what he what he described as an “erroneous” summary of his report into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids. Although the report has not been published in full, the summary said rented computers used in Russia’s bidding process had been destroyed and related emails allegedly could not be retrieved.
“We were of the opinion that this process was closed. The conclusions were satisfactory for us, no evidence [of corruption] was found, we were exonerated,” Sorokin said. “If it starts again, if some countries see it as important to start it again, then it’s just taking up people’s time and effort.”
Asked whether Russia would file a case against Fifa in the court of arbitration for sport or take other action if its 2018 World Cup was cancelled, Sorokin said he did not “want to suppose what might happen”, adding there was no reason to disrupt the event.
“These efforts are unifying the Russian government and all the regional leaderships and the organising committee, and in our work we don’t even want to think about them taking the [World Cup] away from someone. There’s no basis for that,” he said.
Russia has been charging ahead with World Cup preparations despite the furore over Fifa corruption. According to Sorokin, the major reconstruction of ageing stadiums in the World Cup host cities of Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg would begin within the next two months after an “insignificant delay” caused by the need to reduce their planned capacity.
Russia has been implementing budget cuts after the rouble lost half its value last year, including a reduction in World Cup spending, but the sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, promised it would not affect infrastructure and stadium construction. Sorokin said although some projects had been “optimised”, stadium budgets had not been cut and would be met.