Go­ing to Rus­sia

Blat­ter to make trip for World Cup draw as crim­i­nal cases spark travel fears

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY ROB HARRIS ST. PETERS­BURG, RUS­SIA

FIFA Pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter is due in Rus­sia on Thurs­day for his first over­seas trip since the ar­rests of fel­low soc­cer ex­ec­u­tives in May left him un­will­ing to leave the safety of Switzer­land.

Satur­day’s qual­i­fy­ing draw in St. Peters­burg for the 2018 World Cup will be the 79-yearold Blat­ter’s last of­fi­cial event con­nected to football’s show­case tour­na­ment be­fore he pre­ma­turely leaves of­fice in Fe­bru­ary.

Although Blat­ter has not been ac­cused of wrong­do­ing by Amer­i­can or Swiss author­i­ties, the reper­cus­sions of the cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­vinced the pres­i­dent to hastily an­nounce res­ig­na­tion plans last month just four days af­ter his re­elec­tion, and to stay in Switzer­land.

Since May 27 — when po­lice in Zurich ar­rested some of Blat­ter’s close as­so­ci­ates on be­half of the U.S. and seized data from FIFA head­quar­ters — Blat­ter has been ab­sent from two FIFA events. The Swiss na­tive missed hand­ing over the tro­phy in New Zealand for the un­der-20s World Cup and pre­sent­ing the Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Blat­ter con­firmed re­cently: “Un­til ev­ery­thing is clar­i­fied, I won’t take any travel risks.”

He is re­turn­ing to the global stage along­side a sim­i­larly po­lar­iz­ing leader with Amer­i­can ad­ver­saries: Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

In jet­ting to Rus­sia, Blat­ter is be­ing re­united at the draw cer­e­mony with a close ally in Putin, and a coun­try where he will not fear be­ing de­tained, given its lack of ex­tra­di­tion treaty with the United States.

“We al­ways counted on Pres­i­dent Blat­ter’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the show,” World Cup or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee chief ex­ec­u­tive Alexei Sorokin told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day. “We will welcome him here as pres­i­dent of FIFA, as a guest of our coun­try, as a friend of our coun­try.

“It’s the first event for us in terms of the World Cup and we are try­ing to or­ga­nize it in the most ... wel­com­ing fash­ion for ev­ery­one.”

Blat­ter and Putin are ex­pected to ad­dress the vis­it­ing na­tional team coaches and of­fi­cials at the Kon­stanti­novsky Palace be­fore the draw de­ter­mines the qual­i­fy­ing path to the fi­nals in Rus­sia in June-July 2018.

Blat­ter last left Switzer­land in mid-May when he flew, as al­ways by pri­vate jet, to Is­rael for talks in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Blat­ter said Mon­day that his work since then had been un­af­fected by re­main­ing around Zurich, grap­pling with the ex­tent of the gravest scan­dal in FIFA’s 111 years.

“FIFA was not stuck be­cause the pres­i­dent was not mov­ing,” said Blat­ter, whose suc­ces­sor is due to be elected in Fe­bru­ary.

Just hours be­fore be­ing voted in for a fifth term on May 29, two days af­ter the dual crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions erupted in public view, Blat­ter told the FIFA Congress that the cri­sis stemmed from the 2010 vote that saw Rus­sia voted 2018 host and Qatar awarded the 2022 World Cup.

“If two other coun­tries had emerged from the en­ve­lope, I think we would not have these prob­lems to­day,” Blat­ter told del­e­gates in Zurich.

AP PHOTO

FIFA pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the FIFA head­quar­ters in Zurich, Switzer­land, Mon­day.

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