That choice is possibly only more controversial today.The years since have seen Moscow clash with the West over everything from Syria and Ukraine to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England.Russia was even banned as a country from this winter’s Pyeongchang Olympics after being accused of state-sponsored doping at the Sochi Games it hosted four year earlier.The diplomatic barbs have been laced with Cold War-era venom and accompanied by the largest expulsion of diplomats in history.Yet Vladimir Putin is riding as high today as he was eight years ago.The former KGB spy’s popularity with Russians remains unshakeable and his presence on the international arena is more dominant than when he first came to power in 2000.The scandals and diplomatic wrangles have failed to generate a repeat of the boycott that saw nearly half the world stay away from the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.And Putin will have the chance to wield the “soft power” afforded by the football showpiece to project himself as a man of domestic achievement and global bearing.– ‘White elephants’ –Yet the tournament also comes riddled with peril for Putin.Russia has spent in excess of $13 billion (11 billion euros) — a World Cup record — on giving many of the 11 host cities their first post-Soviet facelifts.Fans attending matches in the Mordovia Arena in Saransk will be treading far off the tourist trial © AFP/File / Mladen ANTONOVHost city Saransk, for example, is best known for being the capital of a deserted region where Russia has set up female penal colonies.Airports were rebuilt and expanded to accommodate crowds whose size Russia may not see again for some time.Sleek hotels have gone up in places tourists rarely venture.Twelve voluminous stadiums now loom over cities in the European part of Russia after being completed in the nick of time.A part of Putin’s legacy will hinge on what happens to it all when the fans go home.The $50 billion believed to have been spent on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has had mixed results.The Black Sea resort city looks modern and feels electric. Residents whizz around on silky smooth roads and travel in style from a comfortable airport and train station.But the surrounding mountains that hosted the snow events are filled with abandoned hotels and FIFA will want to avoid such “white elephants”.Seeing the World Cup transform other cities into what Sochi itself has become will be a monumental achievement that could unlock Russia’s economic potential.Filling them with prestigious buildings no one ever uses will turn into another expensive mistake.– Monkey chants –Fans themselves will care little about the politics. Their main concern will be safely and swiftly getting to stadiums for the matches.Those who plan to follow their team as they criss-cross from one venue to the next will be confronted with Russia’s sheer scale.The 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) spanning the westernmost stadium in Kaliningrad and easterly one in Yekaterinburg translates into the distance between Moscow and London.Host cities are four time zones apart and compare best to the travel teams and fans had to endure in the 1994 World Cup in the United States.Foreigners will be further burdened by having to register with the police within a day of arriving in each new location.Some will also be fearful of Russia’s history of hooliganism and racist abuse that has marred a string of recent matches.Putin’s security services cracked down hard on football troublemakers to ensure there is no repeat of the battles that broke out between Russian and English fans at Euro 2016 in France.And football anti-discrimination chief Alexei Smertin has spent the past year trying to eradicate racist behaviour in stadiums.“We need to introduce personal responsibility so that fans who violate rules start being denied the right to go to stadiums and support their teams,” he said after more monkey chants rang out last month.– Gutsy football –FIFA boss Gianni Infantino wore a big grin in Sochi last week as he congratulated Putin for all Russia had already achieved.“You are working to make this World Cup the best World Cup ever,” Infantino said.Yet the chances of Putin celebrating many Russian triumphs on the pitch remain marginal. The host nation are the tournament’s second-lowest ranked team and have not won any of their last five matches.Putin is a sports fanatic who will be present when Russia face Saudi Arabia — the one nation at the World Cup ranked below them — at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on June 14.Russia will attempt to make the knockout stage of a major tournament for the first time in 10 years and have a relatively easy group.But coach Stanislav Cherchesov has nowhere near the class of players of the likes of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo or Brazil’s Neymar — only goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is a name known abroad.Yet Putin spelled out clearly that he expected something special from the Russians at their first home World Cup.“They must show gutsy, uncompromising football, one which the fans love,” the president said in Sochi.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, has spent $13 billion on hosting the World Cup © SPUTNIK/AFP/File / Alexey NIKOLSKYMOSCOW, Russian Federation, May 13 – The World Cup kicks off in Russia in a month’s time with the hosts at loggerheads with the West and intent on using the football showpiece to trumpet their superpower status.Russia was a controversial choice when it was handed the rights to the world’s most watched event in a 2010 vote now tainted by bribery charges.
LONDON (AP) — European soccer’s leadership has an initial conclusion on leaked Manchester City correspondence: The club has been misleading UEFA over its finances.With the power to ban clubs from the Champions League, the consequences from UEFA could be severe for the Premier League champions.UEFA discovered from reading internal emails from City, which were published by German media outlet Der Spiegel last month, the extent of schemes by the club to allegedly cover up the true source of income in a bid to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly while UEFA conducts a review of the City case.City has been transformed into an English soccer power in the decade since being bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, winning the Premier League three times since 2012. But unfettered spending on players has been restricted by European soccer’s governing body — regardless of the owners’ wealth.City has already been punished by UEFA for violating FFP, striking an agreement in 2014 that saw the team fined rather than banned from the Champions League for inflated sponsorship deals with companies linked to the club or its ownership.UEFA publicly said last month that evidence from “Football Leaks” could lead to past cases being re-opened. The person with knowledge of the situation said it was more feasible to use the leaks to re-assess the candor of club executives and as a basis to judge City’s compliance with FFP in the current three-year assessment period.That covers 2015 when Der Spiegel said emails were being sent internally at City showing the manipulation of sponsorship revue from Etihad Airways, the state-owned airline from Abu Dhabi, which is the naming rights sponsor of City’s stadium and training campus as well as appearing on jerseys. The sponsorship was said to generate 67.5 million pounds (about $85 million) annually for City. But City’s holding company — the state-backed Abu Dhabi United Group — channeled 59.9 million pounds back to Etihad, according to Jorge Chumillas, the club’s chief financial officer, in an internal email to club director Simon Pearce.City has not disputed the authenticity of any emails published by Der Spiegel over the last month. Given the fresh insight into City’s financial dealings, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has said there was a “public interest” in the correspondence being leaked, while questioning how it was obtained.“We are assessing the situation. We have an independent body working on it,” Ceferin said Monday. “Very soon you will have the answers on what will happen in this concrete case.”FFP was the flagship policy of Michel Platini, Ceferin’s predecessor as UEFA president, and introduced at the height of the global financial crisis in attempt to prevent clubs from becoming unsustainable.Since July 2011, UEFA has monitored the accounts of all clubs entering its two club competitions. The first period UEFA assessed clubs for compliance with FFP was 2011-13, when owners were allowed to cover losses up to 45 million euros.The leaks showed how City allegedly tried to artificially raise its revenue, in one case by 30 million euros, according to emails from 2013 reported by Der Spiegel. Abu Dhabi United Group was alleged to be sending cash to a shell vehicle which was created to supposedly buy the right to use players’ images in marketing campaigns.There were further examples that Sheikh Mansour could have been the source of sponsorship revenue for Abu Dhabi state-owned companies like investment firm Aabar. Der Spiegel cited a 2010 email to Aabar from Pearce, the City director who also works for Abu Dhabi’s Executive Affairs Authority.“As we discussed, the annual direct obligation for Aabar is GBP 3 million,” Pearce wrote. “The remaining 12 million GBP requirement will come from alternative sources provided by His Highness.”Seeing internal City correspondence has given UEFA a greater insight into the conduct of the club and its officials. A 2014 email from City lawyer Simon Cliff to a colleague showed the death of UEFA’s lead FFP investigator being celebrated: “1 down, 6 to go.”UEFA is examining whether to open disciplinary cases against individuals at City involved in attempts to provide a misrepresentation of club finances to the governing body’s FFP accessors, another person with direct knowledge of the situation said. The person, who did not identify any individuals, spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the City case.A challenge for UEFA is getting City to provide information from related companies in Abu Dhabi that the leaks show are central to compliance with FFP.City has repeatedly declined to respond to the specific allegations in the leaks, dismissing a month of negative headlines by saying: “The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organized and clear.”But City has had no such qualms using its website to cast aspersions on the reputations of other clubs over their ability to comply with FFP. City has used the media watch section on its website to cite unsubstantiated news reports, including a claim in 2016 that “Inter Milan are looking to circumnavigate FFP” and speculation this year that if Paris Saint-Germain “are found to have broken FFP regulations they face being booted out of the Champions League.” Those pages were deleted from its website after City was approached for comment by the AP.—By ROB HARRIS , AP Global Soccer WriterTweetPinShare0 Shares