Moscow - Reuters
Putin, FIFA head send main soccer trophy on Russia tour before 2018 World Cup

Russian President Vladimir Putin and FIFA President
Gianni Infantino on Saturday launched the World Cup trophy on a tour
across Russia ahead of the 2018 championship, with the head of world
soccer’s governing body lauding Russia’s readiness for the event.

“To
the people of Russia, I tell them: enjoy and celebrate the trophy tour
and then the World Cup. And to the people of the world, I tell them:
come to Russia, enjoy Russia and celebrate the World Cup,” Infantino
said, standing next to Putin on a stage in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium.

Surrounded
by hundreds of young soccer players, Infantino and Putin took turns to
hold the FIFA World Cup in their hands before it started its 123-day,
26,000 km (16,250 mile) journey.

“We are
starting now the tour...to prepare the whole world for next year’s event
when in this stadium three billion people around the world will watch
this trophy being handed over to the next world champion,” Infantino
said.

Moscow has eased visa regulations for
foreign soccer fans and pumped billions of dollars into stadiums, hotels
and other infrastructure as the Kremlin is keen to improve Russia’s
image in its worst crisis with the West since the Cold War.

Russia
has come under several rounds of Western sanctions over the annexation
of Crimea and Moscow’s role in Ukraine’s conflict with pro-Russian
separatists.

“Everything is proceeding
according to plan, everything is financed properly,” Putin told
Infantino at a separate meeting later in remarks shown by state
television.

The Luzhniki stadium, which has
undergone a five-year reconstruction, will host the opening and final
games of the World Cup 2018.


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