MOSCOW (AP) – Russia marked 1,000 days to go until the 2018 World Cup on Friday, but FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke was absent after being suspended from his duties.
Against the backdrop of turmoil at FIFA, Russian President Vladimir Putin said World Cup preparations were going to plan as he launched a youth football tournament on Red Square.
Speaking by video link, Putin said “Russia always approaches events like (the World Cup) in a responsible way in terms of hosting and organization.”
“The preparations for the World Cup in 11 cities of our country who have the honor to host the championships are in full swing.”
There was no reference to Valcke, FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man, who had been due to appear at the event before he was suspended Thursday. That followed allegations Valcke was involved in black market sales of tickets to 2014 World Cup matches.
At the ceremony in Moscow on Friday, Valcke’s place was taken by the less well known Colin Smith, FIFA’s director of competitions.
Speaking on Red Square, German World Cup winner Lothar Matthaus, one of a group of football stars invited by FIFA, suggested misconduct at FIFA had partly overshadowed the event in Moscow.
“FIFA’s obviously been a hot topic for several months, it’s discussed a lot. It’s obvious that some people haven’t done what was expected of them, but what I don’t consider right is that everyone piles all the guilt on Sepp Blatter,” he said. “Yesterday there was a negative light cast on the story but it doesn’t have much to do with this event here.”