Moscow (AFP) – Russia World Cup organisers are more worried about Moscow’s latest diplomatic standoff with the West than stadiums being completed on time, a report said Wednesday.
Alexei Sorokin, the organising committee chief for Russia 2018, told the Kommersant newspaper Wednesday the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was “not helping” preparations.
The nerve agent attack in England sparked mass expulsions and a decision by Britain and a few of its allies not to send officials to the June 14 opening ceremony.
“Our main problem rests abroad — not with infrastructure,” Sorokin said.
“Any incident, whether it occurred naturally or was created artificially, is being used to put pressure on World Cup organisers.”
Sorokin said he was confident there is “nothing we cannot finish on time” as organisers race to complete six new stadiums, while airports are still being upgraded and roads built in many of the 11 host cities.
But he believes Moscow’s critics are trying to use the fallout surrounding the poisoning of Skripal to drive down attendances at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prestige event.
“I think the intention was there, but it is not working,” said Sorokin.
Moscow and London have been trading diplomatic barbs almost daily since Skripal and his daughter Yulia fell ill in Salisbury on March 4.
Britain accuses Russia of poisoning Skripal in retribution for passing on state secrets to London.
Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin on Wednesday called it a “grotesque provocation” concocted by UK and US security services.
Meanwhile, world football’s governing body FIFA said Tuesday international demand accounted for 53 percent of the 1.7 million tickets sold so far.
Yet sales in England have been atypically weak.
FIFA sold about 400,000 tickets between March 13 and April 1.
England accounted for less than one percent of that figure and have purchased just 31,000 tickets so far.
Concerns have been compounded by an attack by hundreds of Russian hooligans on English fans in the French port of Marseille during Euro 2016.
Sorokin told the Sport Express news site Wednesday he has discussed Russia’s security measures with British embassy staff.
“We explained everything to them in detail,” said Sorokin.
But he added that no extra security measures for either the England team or its fans were planned.
“Each team will be receive equal, full protection,” Sorokin added.