FIFA WC: Russia suffers blow with Putin absence

Moscow: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will not travel to attend Thursday`s World Cup hosting decision in Zurich, dealing a blow to his country`s hopes of staging the tournament in 2018.

"I would have liked to have gone myself but in these conditions I have decided not to travel... so that they can make a decision without any pressure from the outside," Putin told ministers in Moscow.

Putin, who added that First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov would attend the ceremony, said Russia had faced "unscrupulous competition" in the bid to host the World Cup.

Soccer`s world governing body FIFA will choose the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Thursday.

Putin has been a key supporter of the Russian bid for 2018, as they compete with England and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium.

Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron are in Zurich leading the delegation representing England`s 2018 bid.

Portugal Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero were named as leaders of their joint bid for 2018, with Spain`s World Cup-winning goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas also among the delegation.

As expected, former United States President Bill Clinton was to lead the American delegation bidding for 2022, heading a committee which also included actor Morgan Freeman.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-shik was named at the top of the South Korean delegation bidding for 2022 and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was due to lead the Middle Eastern country`s delegation.

The Dutch-Belgian bid for 2018 included former players Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff as well as the two countries` prime ministers.

Sony Corp CEO Howard Stringer leads the Japan bid for 2022, while Australia`s bid is backed by supermodel Elle Macpherson.

Bureau Report