World Cup draw takes place at Kremlin today
MOSCOW, Russia (AP):
Vladimir Putin welcomes football luminaries to the Kremlin today for a World Cup draw that provides a global audience for the Russian president to attempt to burnish the image of a country scandalised by sports corruption.
By staging the ceremony for the 32 World Cup finalists at the seat of Russian power and draping the Kremlin in FIFA branding, football's governing body is undercutting its pretence that sports and politics should not mix and in a country where the association has proved so damaging.
FIFA is on the final countdown to the first World Cup in Russia as it continues to assess the extent the 2014 World Cup squad was embroiled in the country's state-sponsored doping scheme. FIFA President Gianni Infantino still plans to share a stage Friday with Vitaly Mutko, the Russian deputy prime minister accused of overseeing the elaborate scheme that saw positive samples across Russian sports destroyed or hidden.
Infantino, though, is still trying to rebuild FIFA's image after far-reaching bribery scandals threatened the future of the organisation. The draw comes one day short of the seventh anniversary of the World Cup vote from which so many of FIFA's legal travails stemmed.
Russian authorities deny government involvement in doping and the country has weathered FIFA corruption investigations, concerns about hooliganism, racism around games, deaths on World Cup construction sites and a sponsor shortfall to stay on track to host football's biggest tournament for the first time.
The draw is the moment fans can start to plan their journeys across Russia, with 11 host cities spread from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea in the west to Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains which separate Europe and Asia.