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8 Jul, 2018

FIFA President lauds ‘fantastic’ Russia-hosted World Cup

Moscow, July 06, (TASS News Agency)- FIFA President Gianni Infantino in an exclusive interview with TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman.

— Mr. President, thank you very much for this meeting. I know how busy you are but this Mundial, this World Cup in Russia comes to the final way. I have a very easy question. Are you happy?

That’s a very, very easy question. I’m much more than happy. I think words cannot describe the feelings so far. I think we have to invent new words to describe this World Cup. It’s really fantastic. Everything is great, the atmosphere is incredible, the people are unbelievable, the matches are great. It’s just a great event, the greatest show on Earth!

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

— Now I’ll ask a more difficult question. Because on many occasions during (the) preparation, you said that your expectation was that this tournament, this Mundial will be the best era in FIFA. You even told me that two years ago.

That’s right.

— Is it true now for you?

Absolutely, so far. I think Russia has really set a new benchmark. The 11 host cities are incredible. The stadiums are of course fantastic and everyone can see that. On TV, those who attend the matches, stadiums are state of the art. Each and every one of the 12 stadiums. But more than that – the cities – the cities are beautiful, they are so rich in history, in culture. Some say that many people don’t know and discover it only thanks to this World Cup. The people, 17,000 volunteers, who are the face of Russia, but not only volunteers, all the people on the streets and the restaurants and the cafes, around the cities, the policemen –men and women – in Russia are smiling.

— We prepared special police forces for that tournament.

Yes, all of them smile, that’s nice. The atmosphere is really one of true celebration of football and of the world finally.

— As FIFA (president) you personally (while) preparing this Mundial worked with very close contacts with Russian authorities. You several times met with President Putin. It would be fair to say this Mundial was prepared and is (under) President Putin patronage. How did it work? How did you feel about this? How has this helped organize the tournament?

Well, the help of President Putin and the whole Russian government has been crucial for the success of this World Cup. I have never witnessed such a big commitment from the top to the bottom finally. Because the top sets the tone and the bottom has then to work in making this a success. We have met several times. We were discussing, of course, the organizational side. You know, we would have 3 million people attending the event. Ninety-eight percent of all stadiums are full. This is only possible if every detail is working. And this is really to a big, big extent thanks to the excellent work of President Putin, who at the beginning, you know, he was maybe not the biggest football fan. He prefers some other sports, I’ve been told. By now, the virus has packed him as well, like the whole of Russia.

— To organize such an international event, such a great event, such a fantastic event is a big job, a professional job and to prepare it, a very professional team (is needed), your team, the FIFA team. You personally and your colleagues. Tell us, how does it work behind (the scenes), how many people come with you here to organize it, to help (the) Russian organizing committee?

I want to keep some secrets of course, I cannot reveal everything.

— No! Maybe (the) Qatar organizing committee will hear (it) and will use it!

We will talk to them as well, they are here in Russia. There are thousands of people of course who participate in such an event and everything, is preparing all details. The local organizing committee that has worked over the last years is delivering in a very efficient way. FIFA is, I think, as well at the top level. And the key of all of this is of course teamwork – teamwork – between government, local organizing committee, FIFA, the volunteers behind the scenes to make sure that everything works. Media, journalists, catering – everything has to function, everything has to work in the venues…

— Like one machine!

Like one machine. Because everything depends on something else. It’s not just about organizing a match in a stadium. To organize an event such as a World Cup with 2 million visitors from all around the world it means that every aspect has to be organized, wherever it’s in the airports, in the train stations, in the cities, in the stadiums, all around the country. And this is only possible thanks to cooperation and preparation and professional activity from top to bottom.

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— Asking for this interview with you, it was very difficult to find your free time, because you’re travelling a lot. You have been in all cities, you watched all teams’ (games). For me it is difficult to imagine how it could be to see (the games) in different cities of Russia, it’s such a long way between them, to see all the matches. How did you do it? And what was (the) most impressive (thing) from you travelling around Russia?

Everything was impressive. I was impressed to discover a country I didn’t know so far. I thought I knew Russia, but the realty has been exceeding all my expectations, not only about football, but the richness of this country in terms of culture, heritage, history. And this is something that is part of humanity.  It’s part of the world. And is something the world should know as well. And the world is starting to know and is knowing now thanks to the World Cup. I wanted to visit each of the 11 cities, I wanted to see each of the 32 teams participating in this World Cup live. And of course I’ve been travelling. And this is again only possible thanks to the great work everyone is doing, making this possible. But, I think it has been appreciated by the cities, by the people and very rewarding for me.

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— This is my question. Because during these visits you met many Russian people: volunteers, spectators, common people, not only authorities. How do Russian people come across?

Fantastic, really, I have to say, and it’s not only me saying it, because you know, you can say – yes, it’s the FIFA president. Everyone would be nice to the FIFA president. That’s not true because I’m told and I can see it from the way the people act in the streets, the volunteers with their smiles, with their faces, that they come across as open, as hospitable, as normal people, who want to have (a) party, who want to have fun, like everyone when you speak about football. That’s what it is about. And that’s the image that we want to portray in football and that’s the image of Russia as well, which fully fits into this. No more fearing about Russia and about whatever violence, or discrimination or God knows what. Nothing of this has happened. Nothing is more far from reality. Some others were fearing that Russia is not a football country. Well, I think at the latest since this World Cup Russia is one of the biggest football countries. In the world, not only on the pitch, but also outside of the pitch.

— Do you think this World Cup will have people on the other side of the world, especially from the West to look at Russians from a different perspective?

Definitely. Surely, because we were made (to) believe for many decades in the past due to history and whatever, you know, we shouldn’t look back we should look forward always, certain things about Russia. And we see that when we come to Russia, and it’s not only me, it’s hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world coming to Russia, celebrating on Red Square, celebrating everywhere with their shirts of their colors of their national teams, of their countries altogether, together with the Russians. And this is the real Russia, not the Russia that some people want us to believe what it is. This is Russia, the Russia that we can see, an open country, a welcoming country, hospitable country, a country where many millions of people are living, like in any other part of the world.  And where many millions of people show that they welcome the world.

— Tell me as a professional, as a president of FIFA to me, to a fan with 50 years of experience: my national team performance in this Mundial in my personal opinion was very good, what do you think, how could this achievement help national football? How can it contribute to the development of Russian football?

You will see the results very soon, of what this World Cup would mean for Russia as a football country. Russia, I’m sure, will establish itself solidly in the top countries of the world for football. But not only thanks to the 11 or the 23 players who have shown in this World Cup that they are good, that they are not bad as people were fearing. They’re good, they’re playing as a team, but more importantly as well is that this football “virus” has really packed I think the whole country. What we had been feeling in the stadiums during the Russia games in particular, but even the other games with the Russian fans and the Russian people, living, really, football is something that will last. In addition to this, now you have great infrastructure, great facilities.

Everyone in this country has realized what football can move for the social life, for the people. In different cities, everyone is so proud to show their stadiums at the same time to show their city. And this is something that will remain. It has now to be developed of course, to be built, but it will be built from what is an extremely solid basis, and FIFA will of course be there. I will be there. Everyone in the FIFA team has fallen in love with Russia so we will come back quite regularly to see how things are going for Russian football.

— You said at the 68th Congress of FIFA, which was here in Moscow at the beginning of the Mundial you announced that you have plans to be re-elected. Honestly, me personally and millions of Russian fans will support your candidacy.

Thank you!

— I promise. I will for sure. But what is your main message to football spectators and the football world, to people in more than 200 countries, who watch football maybe every day. What is your personal message as the president of FIFA?

That I’m one of them. That I’m one of these millions of people who has a passion, has emotions, has feelings for football, for this great sport and that like them, like these millions of people around the world I live football, I don’t only follow football, but I live football in and out. And this is what we need to concentrate on in FIFA. This is what we want is to develop football in all the continents, all over the world, to invest for the boys, for the girls. You give a ball like this to a boy or a girl in the street anywhere in the world. And they have a smile in their eyes. This is what we need, this is what we want.  This is what we have to develop. Believing in this, believing in the values of football, of sport and developing them, with a lot of passion and with a lot of energy.

— With just a few days left to the World Cup finals, what could you say to Russian TV audience and Russians fans before the FIFA teams will leave this country?

Well, I can just say really from the bottom of my heart: a big, big thank you to everyone! Thank you very much and see you very soon again!

— Thank you, Mr. President.

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