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Ahead of World Cup, Putin thanks FIFA for keeping ‘sports outside of politics’

Russian President Vladimir Putin (U.S. Department of State/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has addressed a congress of the world soccer governing body FIFA a day ahead of the opening of the 2018 World Cup, thanking the group for — in his words — keeping sports separate from politics.

Putin addressed representatives of more than 200 national soccer federations at the 68th FIFA Congress on June 13.

“I would like to make special note of FIFA’s adherence to the principle of ‘sports outside of politics,'” Putin said. “Russia has always supported this approach.”

Russia is hosting the World Cup amid persistent tension with the West over issues including Moscow’s interference in Ukraine, its alleged meddling in elections abroad, and the nerve-agent poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in England.

Putin is expected to attend the opening game of the World Cup, in which Russia plays Saudi Arabia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The tournament, which will be played at 12 stadiums in 11 Russian cities, ends on July 15.

The FIFA Congress is expected to select the host of the 2026 World Cup, choosing between Morocco and a joint bid by the United States, Canada, and Mexico.