Exclusive - Russia World Cup Chief Mutko Vows to Eradicate Racism

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Mutko remains vague on plans to tackle racism in Russian football (WFI)
(WFI) Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko tells World Football INSIDER the country will "solve" its football racism problem in its preparations for the 2018 World Cup.

In an exclusive interview with INSIDER, the chair of Russia 2018 World Cup organising committee also suggested concerns over the transport infrastructure required for the FIFA tournament were misplaced.

Racist incidents have severely damaged the image of Russian football this season, with bananas thrown at Brazilian Roberto Carlos and Congolese defender Christopher Samba who both play for Anzhi players. Last week, former CSKA star Vagner Love of Brazil labelled Zenit St. Petersburg as “the most racist team” in the country, saying he dreaded his visits to the club's Petrovsky Stadium. Zenit are the only top Russian Premier League club never to have fielded a black player.

"I think racism is not a problem only of Russia but of the world," Mutko told INSIDER, declining to admit the scale of the problem in his own country.

"We would like to have a synergy between resolving this problem and organising the World Cup. During the organising process we will solve this problem also," he promised.

How that will be achieved is open to question, particularly in the wake of recent comments made by president the Russian Football Union, Sergey Fursenko. Last month, he claimed that racism was not an issue at any of the country's top clubs.

Mutko remained vague in detailing how the government and Russian FA planned to crack down on racism.

"Lots of people will be included [consulted] and at each step we will involve more and more people... involve fans in the process step by step," he said.

He suggested the legislative system would be tightened up in order to punish racist fans.

"It's a complex [set] of measures which will be done," he added.

Mutko's comments echoed those he made in March when he insisted the football racism problem was no worse than in other nations including England where former national team captain John Terry faces charges of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. Promising to "combat this racism", Mutko added. "In general racism in Russian football is not that bad. Of course we have problems."

Mutko Rejects Transport Concerns

Speaking to INSIDER about the progress made since Russia secured the World Cup in December 2010, Mutko said: "We have reached goals we had planned for this period, the organising committee, organisations in regions are in place also... adopted a strategy, revision of all existing infrastructures, a draft law is in development to show the government is giving all guarantees."

The Russian sports minister confirmed five new stadia were being built for the 2018 World Cup, with seven venues to be renovated.

Of the current 13 cities and 15 stadiums proposed, which are divided into four geographical clusters, only 11 cities and 12 venues will make the cut.

FIFA officials are in the process of checking out all 13 candidate cities in an inspection tour that winds up on June 22. The host cities decision is due in September.

FIFA has long identified transport as one of the key challenges of Russia 2018 preparations because the host venues are so widely scattered across the vast expanse of Russia. Upgrading airports and introducing high-speed rail links between the cities represents a huge and expensive undertaking.

Mutko dismissed concerns around Russia's transport infrastructure being the biggest issue in World Cup preparations.
"It's not correct. The concept of the World Cup is that the the main venues and matches will be located in the European part of Russia," he told INSIDER.

"It means four clusters... and the distance between cities in each cluster will be 20-25 minutes by plane only. The biggest distance between [all] cities is only two hours by plane," he said.

Asked, then, what was the toughest challenge ahead for Russia 2018,
Saint Petersburg's 69,500-seat stadium, a proposed semi-final venue, is the biggest and most expensive project for the Russia World Cup (Russia 2018)
Mutko said: "I don't see very big challenges to organise it.

"There are some problems but we have resources, we have the popularity of this game in Russia with responsible persons," he added, noting Russia's experience in hosting international sports events.

FIFA Inspects Saint Petersburg

Last week, a FIFA delegation visited Saint Petersburg to inspect the city's hosting plans for the World Cup. FIFA was represented by its head of department for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, Jurgen Muller. Russia 2018 CEO Alexey Sorokin led the LOC's interests.

The city's ambitiously-conceived retractable-roof venue, which will also boast a moveable pitch, was the highlight of the inspection. Saint Petersburg's 69,500-seat stadium, a proposed semi-final venue, is the biggest and most expensive project for the Russia World Cup, costing €500 million ($742m). It is scheduled to be finished next year or in 2014.

FIFA officials also visited Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square, which is under consideration as the main site for potential Fan Fests. The square is capable of holding up to 57,000 supporters.

Under the Russia 2018's plans, Saint Petersburg will also host the preliminary draw for the tournament. The venue for that draw could be the new stage of the celebrated Mariinsky Theatre, which is scheduled to open in 2014.

FIFA’s Muller said discussions held with the city's sports authorities were "very fruitful".

“We discussed some of the aspects to do with preparation of the infrastructure needed to host the World Cup. At this stage we’re just gathering information from the candidate cities, and what we can say is that we’re pleased with the responses we received to the questions we asked," he was quoted on FIFA.com.

After a trip to Kaliningrad last Friday, fourth stop on the FIFA delegation’s inspection tour, the team will tour Ekaterinburg, Yaroslavl and Moscow in May.

The final stops on the FIFA evaluation tour of 2018 candidate cities take place in June, with officials travelling to Kazan, Nizhniy Novgorod, Samara and Volgograd.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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