Russia banks on Putin`s powers of persuasion in 2018 bid

Moscow: Russia will draw on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin`s powers of persuasion to try to lure the 2018 World Cup to the world`s largest country for the first time.

Putin was largely responsible for Sochi`s successful bid to win the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics when he travelled, as Russia`s president, to Guatemala in 2007 to meet members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"(Putin) has already done a great deal to help our bid," Russian Sports Minister and bid chairman Vitaly Mutko, who also sits on FIFA`s executive board, told Reuters in a recent interview.

One of Russia`s strongest points is full government backing, with both Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev throwing their weight behind the bid.

Earlier this year, Putin personally signed all the government guarantees, then promised to drop entry-visa requirements for players, officials and fans with valid tickets.

However, Mutko, a close friend of Putin, did not reveal if the Prime Minister would go to Zurich for the Dec. 2 vote to make his pledge in person.

"All (Putin`s) plans have been kept secret up to now but of course we`re all hoping he`ll be there," Mutko said.

A year ago, just a few steps from Red Square with the Kremlin walls in the background, Mutko revealed an ambitious bid to bring the world`s greatest sporting event to a country which spans 11 time zones from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, for the first time.

The plan calls for the use of 13 host cities with a total of 16 stadiums in four geographical clusters -- with four stadiums in or near the capital Moscow alone.

That plan could see fans travelling distances of more than 3,000 kilometres from Russia`s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in the west to the most eastern location, Yekaterinburg on the Europe-Asia border in the Urals.

Bureau Report