ZURICH – The head of Russia’s 2018 World Cup organizing committee, Alexey Sorokin, has said that last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris have not changed the host country’s approach to security at the tournament.
Sorokin, speaking at the International Football Arena conference at FIFA's headquarters, also assuaged fears of racist abuse at match venues. He remained certain that the tournament would take place in Russia, despite investigations into 11 of the 22 FIFA executive committee members who voted back in December 2010.
“Our authorities have been preparing the security concept, and that’s our obligation,” Sorokin said. “Attacks like this have been taken into account preparing for this. I’m certain that our security forces will ensure the necessary level of public safety at the World Cup. We will make sure we don't spoil the celebration but people must feel safe.”
Sorokin said that Russia’s experience of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi proved it could host major events with “expertise, will and enthusiasm.” He explained: “Sochi was very important for reasons of credibility. We have that credibility now.”
Sorokin cut a relaxed figure as he played down concerns that Russia had a problem with racism at football venues. Earlier this year, FC Ufa midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong was banned for two games for raising a middle finger in response to what he said were monkey chants from fans of the opposing side, Spartak Moscow. Hulk, who plays for Zenit St Petersburg, was reported to have pulled out of July’s preliminary World Cup draw after saying that he encountered racism in “almost every game.”
“We take racism very seriously,” he said. “We acknowledge the issue exists and are not trying to overblow it. But we are not a racist society and I would argue with anyone who says otherwise. There have been incidents, but this is not a trend.”
He reminded delegates that the Russian football federation appointed Alexei Tolkachev as anti-racism inspector earlier this year, and warned that fans will have a personal liability at games as well.
"Fans should be aware of the rules of conduct at all new stadia," he said. "[Any breach] could lead to anything up to criminal measures depending on the level of misconduct. There is no place for racism during the World Cup."
Sorokin said that FIFA’s scandals in no way affected Russia’s plans to develop 12 stadia in 11 cities across the country. He did not consider any scenario ending up with Russia not hosting the tournament.
“We cannot afford to plunge into speculation,” he said. “It will be in Russia. We are thinking about functional and operational plans, having construction sites completed, venues commissioned on time. Our aim is to prepare the best ever World Cup. We are fully equipped to organize a brilliant World Cup. Everything is well on track. It will be hospitable, cordial, and from our heart.”
Also speaking at the International Football Arena was FIFA Audit & Compliance Committee chairman Domenico Scala, who kicked off the event by conceding that football had a problem. “If we accept corruption [in football] is systemic then we can start to do something about it,” he said. “If we deny it, we dismiss the problem.
“Fixing FIFA alone won’t solve the problem. We have to address confederations and member associations as well. The reform committee is slowly moving in the right direction. But what I would like to see–and we are not far away from this–is for people within sport to be intrinsically accepting the need for change. If that's the case, it will happen. If you wait for it to be imposed, then it will take much longer.”
Other speakers at the event included Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, Schalke board member Alexander Jobst and WPP chairman Sir Martin Sorrell, who said that FIFA “has a big opportunity between now and election to signify a significant change.”
When asked if he would like to be FIFA president, Sorrell joked: “it’s an academic question, so I’ll give you an academic answer: I’d love to be FIFA president.”