Former FIFA boss Blatter revels in visit to Putin, World Cup
MOSCOW (AP) — Sepp Blatter came to Moscow and saw Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, defying FIFA's wish that its suspended former president's visit to the World Cup would attract little attention.
Blatter says he went to see Russia's president after watching Portugal's 1-0 win over Morocco in Moscow on Wednesday — wearing the laminate fan ID card required for all people attending World Cup games in Russia.
"We had small talks," Blatter, who converses with Putin in German, told reporters Thursday. "We spoke about football and the good start of the competition, the good start of the team."
The 82-year-old Blatter is serving a six-year ban from official football duties for financial misconduct during this 17-year rule. The terms of the ban, which runs until October 2021, meant Blatter was kept separate from his successor Gianni Infantino and other football officials at Luzhniki Stadium.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to give details of Blatter's visit, describing it as "a private meeting."
Fulfilling a long-standing personal invitation from Putin to attend the World Cup, Blatter will travel to St. Petersburg to see Brazil play Costa Rica on Friday.
Blatter said it was "respectful" to be invited to the Kremlin despite being suspended from football. He was escorted to the meeting by his former FIFA executive committee colleague Vitaly Mutko, who is a deputy prime minister and the leader of Russia's football federation.
"I think it is a respectful activity and I was happy to meet him (Putin) in the Kremlin," he said. Blatter was FIFA president from 1998 until being suspended from office in October 2015 in the fallout from U.S. and Swiss federal investigations of international football officials.
Blatter's presence in Russia is awkward and a little embarrassing for sport's new leadership trying to rebuild its reputation after corruption-scarred years.
Most of the executive committee members who took part in a December 2010 vote to pick Russia and Qatar as future World Cup votes have been investigated or suspended by FIFA's ethics committee, or indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Blatter, however, suggested FIFA was not troubled by his five-day visit — his first public appearance outside Switzerland since a July 2015 trip to St. Petersburg for the World Cup qualifying draw.
"The president of FIFA was informed personally by the president of the state here that he invites me. And he has said 'OK, nothing.' So I don't think they are bothered," he said.
However, Blatter joked about his relationship with Infantino, who is from a neighboring town in the same Swiss region.
"I have a very special relationship with Gianni Infantino," he said, "it means we don't speak!"
Blatter was hosted Wednesday by Russian World Cup organizers and watched from a hospitality suite as Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal.
"It is good to be a fan," Blatter said before posing for photographs with the laminated Fan ID card.
Blatter has had health scares since leaving office and clearly thrived on the attention from international media and fans in Moscow.
"I was in a shower of people because they have recognized I was once the president of FIFA," he said. "To live these emotions for me was good, to say, 'He is still alive." And here I am."
Staying in a five-star hotel in central Moscow, Blatter was greeted warmly after his media interviews in the reception area by former Netherlands international Clarence Seedorf.
FIFA has declined comment on details of Blatter's visit, saying it took note of his arrival.