MOSCOW, July 6, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino told
President Vladimir Putin on Friday the world was “in love” with World Cup
hosts Russia and praised him for overcoming negative stereotypes about the
Infantino spoke at a meeting with Putin and former world football stars
including former England defender Rio Ferdinand and ex-Denmark goalkeeper
“We all fell in love with Russia,” Infantino told a beaming Putin at the
televised meeting in the Kremlin.
“Everyone who has been here for a period of time now has discovered a
country that we didn’t know.”
Despite high tensions with the West, Putin has presided over a well-
organised, good-humoured tournament.
Human rights groups warn however that he is using the world’s biggest
sporting event to gloss over his authoritarian rule.
Human Rights Watch said the tournament is taking place “during the worst
human rights crisis in Russia since the Soviet era.”
But the World Cup has created an unusual carnival atmosphere in
traditionally conservative Russia — not least due to the home team’s own
unexpected success. “Russia has become a true football country. The virus of
football has entered into the bodies of each and every Russian citizen,”
Hundreds of thousands of foreigners are visiting, with many saying it has
allowed them to discover a different, softer side to Russia.
“Many stereotypes about Russia have simply collapsed,” Putin told his
guests, who also included Lothar Matthaus of Germany and Marco van Basten of
“People have seen that Russia is a hospitable country which is friendly to
visitors.”Infantino praised Putin’s government for busting negative anti-
“All the fears that some were trying to put on us with regards to this
World Cup, well not only they were not true but it’s actually the opposite.”
Infantino was elected president of world football’s governing body in
2016. His predecessor Sepp Blatter resigned following a corruption scandal.