The controversy around Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup

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The decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia sparked controversy and cries of foul play almost from the moment the words left Sepp Blatter’s mouth.

The Russian delegation, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, were jubilant at winning the hosting rights at the first time of asking at the event in December 2010.

Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s deputy prime minister, told the crowd: “You have entrusted us with the Fifa World Cup for 2018 and I just can promise, we all can promise, you will never regret. Let us make history together.”

For the England camp, including David Beckham, the Duke of Cambridge and then prime minister David Cameron, there was bitter disappointment as it emerged its bid costing £15 million secured just two votes.

Within hours, there were questions raised about the transparency of the voting process and the governing body’s executive committee, with former England manager Graham Taylor calling for a thorough investigation.

The BBC was forced to defend a documentary on allegations of bribery and corruption at Fifa aired before the vote, Beckham later said the process “felt unfair”, and Fifa’s vice-president Geoff Thompson bemoaned broken promises of votes.

The bid’s chief executive, Andy Anson, when asked if he had been lied to, said “clearly some people did” and then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the decision was a “slap in the face”.

David Beckham (centre) and Prince William were part of England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup (Anthony Devlin/PA)
David Beckham (centre) and Prince William were part of England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup (Anthony Devlin/PA)

In 2015, Fifa president Mr Blatter suggested to the Russian news agency Tass that the committee had agreed before the vote that Russia should win because there had never been a World Cup staged in eastern Europe.

But it was not just England’s regret at missing out that prompted questions to be asked over Russia’s staging of world football’s most famous tournament and the pinnacle of the beautiful game.

A corruption scandal eventually engulfed Fifa in the summer of 2015 as US investigators arrested six officials in a racketeering probe, while Swiss authorities raided Fifa headquarters, gathering data and documents for a separate investigation into allegations of criminal mismanagement and money laundering in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

The old guard, including Mr Blatter, were replaced by a new leadership that promised to clean up the game’s image and enshrined in policy a commitment to protecting human rights.

Commentators continue to raise the spectre of racism and homophobia in Russian football, concerns that campaigners say remain even on the eve of the event, while the violence that marred Euro 2016 has sparked security fears.

Police fire water cannons to control the fighting after football fans clashed ahead of England vs Russia at Euro 2016 (Niall Carson/PA)
Police fire water cannons to control the fighting after football fans clashed ahead of England vs Russia at Euro 2016 (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Putin at first dismissed the fighting, saying: “I don’t know how 200 Russian fans could fight several thousand of the British.”

But experts said there have since been attempts to curb hooliganism by Russian authorities in time for the World Cup, including security services forcing the leaders of firms to sign agreements that they will not organise or participate in fighting.

Some, including several MPs, fear those issues could be exacerbated by the deep freeze in relations between the Kremlin and the West since early March, and the poisoning of Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

A row over a suspected chemical attack in Syria and Mr Putin’s support for the regime of Bashar Assad has added to the tense political backdrop, which has prompted the Foreign Office to warn travellers of “the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time”.

Meanwhile, LGBT fans have been warned against “public displays of affection”, amid fears of discrimination in a country which as recently as 2013 passed a law banning gay “propaganda” to minors.

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