Fifa's Gianni Infantino: Russia says economic crisis won't affect World Cup

Fifa President Gianni Infantino attends a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on April 19, 2016. Infantino expressed his satisfaction with the preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Fifa President Gianni Infantino attends a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on April 19, 2016. Infantino expressed his satisfaction with the preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.PHOTO: EPA

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Fifa President Gianni Infantino said on Tuesday (April 19) he had received assurances from the Russian government that the economic crisis convulsing Russia would not affect preparations for the 2018 soccer World Cup.

Russia, which faces a second straight year of recession after its gross domestic product fell 3.7 per cent last year due to lower global oil prices and Western sanctions, plans to cut state spending by 10 per cent on average in 2016.

Its World Cup budget has been repeatedly slashed and was limited to 620.9 billion roubles (S$12.6 billion) in February.

"Everyone knows, of course, the economic situation and we have received sufficient guarantees that this will not have an impact," said Infantino on his first visit to Moscow since being elected Fifa president in February.

"I think actually quite the opposite, I think that the World Cup can contribute to boost not only the football movement but the general economy here in Russia."

Speaking at a news conference with Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, Infantino also addressed allegations made against him in media reports citing leaks from the Panama Papers.

"It has already been clarified quite clearly that this story about these Panama Papers was absolutely a non-story because everything was done completely legally, properly, transparently, openly," Infantino said.

European soccer body UEFA has confirmed that Infantino, who was working for the organisation at the time, was one of two officials who signed a contract to sell broadcast rights to two Argentine businessmen.

The rights were then reportedly resold for three times as much and the two men were later indicted by the United States as part of a huge corruption scandal which has thrown world soccer and Fifa into turmoil.

Both UEFA and Infantino have denied any wrongdoing.

Infantino, who was elected Fifa president on a pledge to lead the federation into a new, scandal-free era, said the reports based on the Panama Papers had not hurt his reputation.

"I don't think at all this will have any impact on what I'm doing," he said. "I simply want to be judged by the facts and by the actions of my work."