Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa…Sepp Blatter?
If Russian President Vladimir Putin were on the judges’ panel, the embattled Swiss soccer supremo would be in with a shout of the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I think people like Monsieur Blatter, or the great directors of international sporting federations (like) the International Olympic Committee, deserve particular recognition,” Putin told the Swiss TV channel RTS in an interview. “If anyone deserves the Nobel Prize, it’s people like that.”
Putin’s mutual admiration society with the FIFA president is no secret: they’ve been BFFs ever since the controversial double-draw that awarded the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar, amid a whirl of corruption allegations that are now the focus of two criminal inquiries in the U.S. and Switzerland.
The Russian leader might have felt he needed to return a compliment after Blatter (who has been pressured into resigning his presidency but who is staying on for another seven months while his replacement is found) lavished praise on Russia last week at the draw for the 2018 qualifying phase in St. Petersburg.
“Russia will be a fantastic host. It will be a wonderful moment for Russia, the rest of the world and for football,” Blatter said, having told Putin earlier in public comments that he had “complete trust” in Russia’s ability to deliver the tournament.
The government has been scrambling to cut costs for delivering the tournament since the collapse of global oil prices and the imposition of western sanctions drove the economy into recession last year. The Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 cost over $51 billion amid widespread allegations of corruption by contractors. The country has dipped into its foreign reserves to plug the balance sheets of the state banks that lost money financing the new facilities.
The economy is still struggling to recovery from last year’s shock, according to figures out Tuesday. Output was down 3.4% from a year ago in the first half, by some way the worst performance among the world’s major economies. Real incomes fell 3.1% in the same period, due to inflation running at over 15%.
After having steadied at the start of 2015, the ruble is now falling again under fresh pressure from oil prices. On Tuesday, the dollar went through 60 rubles for the first time since March.
Still, Putin wasn’t in a mood to be got down by such concerns, gladly accepting his interviewer’s invitation to indulge one of his favorite claims: that the U.S.-driven probe into corruption at FIFA is just another way for Washington to project its power across the world, and proof of its disrespect for other nations.
“No-one is against the fight against corruption, but there are international norms,” said the former KGB spy, whose army has invaded two of Russia’s neighbors in the last seven years, making the biggest land grab in Europe since World War 2 with the annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
“The U.S, was a candidate for 2022. Its closest European ally, Great Britain, was a candidate for 2018,” he said. “This struggle against corruption, the way it has been conducted, leads me to wonder whether it isn’t just a continuation of the struggle for the World Cups in 2018 and 2022.”