FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Saturday that the upcoming World Cup will not be a “war,” as Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin are committed to ensuring safety amid fears of fan clashes.
“We are not going to war,” Infantino said. “You will see that we are going to have a football party and if anyone wants to cause trouble, they will have problems.”
“The Russians are very committed to this World Cup being a total success,” he told a news conference in Panama.
There are concerns violence could erupt between fanatical “ultras”, particularly Russian and English fans, who clashed at the 2016 European Championship tournament in France.
However, the FIFA chief – explaining he had been involved in the organization of four European Championships – confirmed organisers in Russia are pulling out all the stops to avoid such incidents.
“I have a little bit of experience in organising big events and I have to say that I have never seen the level of preparation – especially in security – that I am seeing in Russia anywhere else,” he said.
The tournament – which runs from June 14 to July 15 – is set to attract fans from all over the world, as spectators will not need a visa to attend.
Infantino on Friday confirmed video assistant referee technology (VAR) will make its debut at the World Cup in Russia this summer despite lingering opposition from within and outside football.
“We are going to have in 2018, for the first time, a World Cup with VAR,” said Infantino after a meeting of the FIFA Council which, as expected, rubber-stamped the go-ahead given by the rule-making International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Zurich two weeks ago.
“This has been approved and we are really very happy with this decision.”
Iraq ban lifted
The World Cup, which takes place from June 14-July 15, will see VAR used to judge whether or not a goal has been scored, analyse whether a penalty should be awarded, decide on red cards and rectify if a player has been mistakenly sanctioned.
Meanwhile, FIFA said it was lifting the three-decade ban on Iraq hosting international football with the cities of Arbil, Basra and Karbala given the go-ahead to stage official matches.
“We are allowing international matches to be staged in the cities of Arbil, Basra and Karbala,” Infantino said.
However, FIFA added that they cannot “yet” agree to a request from the Iraqi authorities to organise matches in the capital of Baghdad.
Iraq has not played full internationals on home turf since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The ban, covering all but domestic matches, stayed in place after the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
It was briefly lifted in 2012, but a power outage during an Iraq-Jordan match in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil led FIFA to promptly reinstate it.
The FIFA Council also decided that Peru will host the 2019 Under-17 World Cup with Poland staging the Under-20 tournament.