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Gianni Infantino, elected the president of the world’s governing body of football less than two months ago, is paying his first official visit to Russia on April 19-20 in his new capacity. FIFA President gave an interview to Rossiya 24 television channel made by TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman.
- Mr. President, welcome to Moscow.
- What was the biggest challenge in these 55 days of your presidency and what do you think, will be your next steps?
- There were no big challenges in the sense that I knew what I should expect when becoming FIFA president. Of course, it’s a new era. Of course, we have events coming on, including this fantastic World Cup here in Russia. Of course we need to restore the image of FIFA, we need to implement the reforms, which were approved by the Congress. You know this takes time, takes energy. I’ve been travelling all around the world, I’ve been already on four continents in the last 55 days. So I’m trying to meet people and trying to understand their concerns, I’m trying to implement the reforms, I’m working hard as I’ve always done. I am looking very much forward to a lot of them because football is fantastic.
- In a couple of hours you’ll have a meeting with President Putin. What message will you bring to President Putin?
- For me, I have already said, it is an honor to meet President Putin. From what I have already seen in these two days in Moscow and in preparation for this visit is a big commitment of this country, of the population, of the government for the organization of the World Cup, of the Confederations Cup, for football, for sport in general. I think that we can really work together to make this event, which is the most important global event. Not only sports event, not only football event, but really global event – big success to be the best World Cup ever.
It will be crucial for Russia, for the world. And I am sure that if we work as a team – football is a team sport – if we work as a team will have great result. This will be the message I want to convey to President Putin and I am sure that we work well together as a team to stage the best FIFA World Cup ever
- You have said work together. Now that all Russians work together with FIFA to prepare World Cup 2018. We are all in one team. Once you said it will be the best World Cup ever. What do we have to do that we haven’t done?
- It will be the best World Cup ever. I firmly believe it. I commented about it, what I saw here makes me more optimistic about it. We will have great facilities. Of course there is a lot of work to be done from now on till 2018 World Cup. The stadiums have to be finalized, transportation, so everything has to be coordinated. But I am sure that with the discipline and the hard-work the Russians are famous for this will be done without any major incidents. We will certainly disagree on many topics, have discussions about everything but in the end of it all we will all pull on the same side. And if everything is ready Russia will have the most modern, state of the art infrastructure in world football, which is the scene that we need for great spectacle to take place. Russia will be a welcoming country. Russia will welcome two million people, who will come here in this period of competition of course, because this is what football is about. But also in this period of discovering a country, which is a welcoming country, especially in the summer. It will be a great event and fun first thing. People can celebrate, football can celebrate the moment of joy and passion. I am sure that people will discover a country, which is full of culture, full of history in addition to football enthusiasm that I see here. And if then on the pitch the performances are as we expect they will be great by all the teams, by all these fantastic players that we have, then I am sure the world will be proud of Russia and Russia will be proud of the world and we will have a great event.
- You know there are a lot of rumors about how the venues of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups were chosen. As the FIFA president, can you now here draw the line for these rumors?
- You know I am a very pragmatic and practical person and the decision that was taken in 2010 to hold the 2018 World Cup in Russia and 2022 World Cup in Qatar. These are facts. I always base myself on facts. I want people to judge my work as well based on facts and not on rumors, not on allegations, not on anything that people spread around. So this decision has been taken. My job is now to organize together with Russia, the Russian Football Union, the Russian Federation, the Russian population the best World Cup ever in 2018. And we will do that.
- I know that you are a fan of Inter Milan. But even so, who are other great football players you admire?
- Now as the FIFA President I have to concentrate myself on the referees more than on the players. But the best referees are those that we don’t see on the pitch.
- There are also many good Russian referees.
- That’s true. Ivanov…
- Valentin Ivanov, Nikolai Latyshev, Tofik Bakhramov. Great names!
- Of course, of course… The whole technological question in football started in ’66… But anyway there are a lot of great players today we are so lucky that we have Messi, that we have Cristiano Ronaldo, that we have Ibrahimovich, that we have Neymar, that we have many-many top players today. But every season of the history of football has had its great players from Pele to Maradona, Bobby Charlton, Cruijff
- And what about Russians?
- Well there have been in the history a lot of Russians. I was meeting yesterday with Nikita Simonyan - of course, a legend. Lev Yashin, the only goalkeeper who won the Golden Ball (Ballon d’Or)…
- Since you mention Lev Yashin, you know, Valentina Yashina, his widow, asked me to present to you this booklet of FIFA where he is featured as member of the World Team.
- Spasibo! Thank you very much! This is a really nice gift. This is the legend you know…
- This is what created the love of all of us for this fantastic game. There are many more Russians, you know Alexander Maslov? He also played in Switzerland.
- Mr. President, what is next on your list of things to do as President for FIFA as an organization, as an institution, one of the biggest in the world?
- It is one of the biggest institutions...
- Bigger than the United Nations?
- Well it has a different job to do than the UN. We have a different function, we focus on football. But it’s true that in the last few months and maybe years the image of FIFA has been tarnished. When I went and go still to big press conferences, people are asking me about corruption and things. And it is my task together with all of the FIFA community. So many reforms have been and adopted and the chair was elected, so many reforms to bring transparency which should bring good governance into the structure of FIFA, into the ways we are operating and people will see the facts that we are serious, that we are honest, that we believe in integrity and transparency and what we do. And if we do this, and this for me goes without saying, this is our job, then we can really concentrate on football and speak about football, speak about the game, the World Cup, the formats, the players, the stars, the legends, the technology – all of these topics where I want to invest more in their development than what was done in the past for world football. I think this is our task and we will show the people that we can do that.
- I think that you are a happy man. You know why? Because your mother Maria – she’s 81, and she still works. And God bless her. And when she worked in newspaper shops, every day she would bring newspapers home, and you would look at papers even in foreign languages. So here’s a special newspaper for you. Because you are fond of newspapers. It’s the most important newspaper in the Soviet period – the PRAVDA newspaper.
- Pravda! Yes!
- 11 July 1960. Here is the picture when the Russian (Soviet) team won the European cup. It was the biggest victory in the history of our Soviet and Russian football. You know these people, their great names – here’s Lev Yashin, for example. This newspaper is for you. But what would you say to our team in 2018?
- First of all thanks for this, this is really touching my heart. This is not history, this is a legend. The first European championship won by an incredible team, and it will remain in the history books. So thank you very much. Now, the players today of Russia will have to look at this. They should look at those who have made the glory of this country and they have to look at the people. Look into the eyes of the children. Everyone is looking at them. Everyone wants to be proud of their country which is of course a great responsibility on their shoulders but they are professionals. And with hard work, with discipline, with commitment, with passion – you can move mountains. And I’m sure that the Russian team will make a great performance.
- Thank you, Mr. President.
- Thank you.
Interviewed by Mikhail Gusman