FIFA boss unworried about Russia 2018 hooligans

Doha (AFP) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino said Thursday he was not worried about hooliganism at next year’s Russia World Cup, amid growing fears the tournament could be blighted by fan violence.

Speaking in Qatar following a FIFA executive summit meeting, Infantino also said that football’s governing body has not asked Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko to resign as the tournament’s chief organiser.

“I am not concerned about trouble and violence in 2018,” Infantino told AFP and a small group of reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

“I have full confidence in the Russian authorities, they are taking this matter very, very seriously.” 

He added that Russian organisers had been in touch with FIFA, UEFA and the organisers of Euro 2016 in France, where Russian and English fans clashed in bloody street battles, especially in Marseille, leading to the expulsion of several Russians.

He added that Russia was a “welcoming country, which wants to celebrate football”.

Infantino’s comments came ahead of the broadcast of a television documentary in Britain on Thursday in which Russian hardline fans are said to threaten trouble against English fans who go to the World Cup.

Hardline hooligans warned that the 2018 World Cup would be a “festival of violence”.

There are also concerns about Mutko, who has faced questions about his role as head of the Russia’s 2018 organising committee after being linked to doping by Russian athletes.

Mutko has denied any link to the scandal, which a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency investigator said was “state sponsored”.

Mutko is also seeking a new place on the FIFA council in a vote in April and must pass an integrity check. 

Asked whether he has asked Mutko to resign as head of the Russian World Cup committee, Infantino said: “No.”

– Four WC host countries? –

Infantino was however more open about the prospect of countries sharing the hosting of the World Cup finals from 2026 on, when the tournament will expand to 48 teams.

“For 2026, now we are starting the bidding process, we took already some important decisions,” he said. “We will encourage co-hosting of the World Cup. 

“We need FIFA to show we are reasonable and we have to think about sustainability long-term.

“If you think about the World Cup and the requirements we are putting on countries there are really only a few countries in the world that can comply.

“It is perfectly in line with our sustainability and legacy to maybe bring together two, three, four countries who can jointly present a project with three, four, five stadiums each.”

He added that hosting countries should “preferably” be located close to one other, which may increase speculation about a joint North American bid for 2026.

One of the few countries which can afford a World Cup on its own is Qatar.

Last week, the country’s finance minister, Ali Shareef Al-Emadi,said the energy-rich 2022 hosts were spending almost $500 million every week on major infrastructure projects for football’s biggest tournament.

However one outstanding concern is the need for Qatar to test its multi-billion dollar facilities ahead of 2022.

Asked if Doha could host the 2021 FIFA World Club World Cup tournament, Infantino said “all options were open”.

“We have to make sure there will be some test events, test matches organised here and all the options are open at this moment in time.”

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