ZURICH - Russia won a fair fight to host the 2018 World Cup, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, rejecting suggestions of corruption at world football's governing body FIFA.
"We are honoured to win in this tough and fair fight," Putin told a late evening news conference after flying to Zurich from Moscow on hearing that Russia had beaten England and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and the Netherlands/Belgium to host 2018.
"Thank you for supporting Russia. Together let us make sure that football supports fair play, tolerance, honour."
Putin said he had made the right decision on Wednesday to stay away from Zurich for Russia's final presentation so FIFA executives could make their decision in peace after corruption allegations in the British media.
"I did this out of respect. There was unacceptable campaigning that was deployed for the World Cup in 2018."
"People were accused of corruption. There were accused without any grounds, without any reasons, no justifications," he said.
Putin was credited with helping Sochi win the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics when he travelled to Guatemala in 2007 to meet members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
His decision to stay away from Zurich ahead of the vote had cast doubt on the Russian bid, especially as all the other European leaders attended.
Asked about leaked U.S. diplomatic cables earlier this week which described the former KGB spy as an "alpha-dog" who presides over corrupt officials and crooked spies, Putin said this had also contributed to his decision not to come.
He rejected suggestions that England had been cheated, adding that the country was a great footballing nation.
"We are a good rival and we are waiting for you in 2018 and we will do our best for England to realise themselves," he said, adding that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was bringing his experience in England to help develop the game back home.
Putin noted the western European nations Russia was bidding against had serious economic problems, while his country has strong growth and the world's third biggest stocks of gold as well as being the first host in eastern Europe.
"Our vision corresponded to the FIFA philosophy and this philosophy is to enhance the borders of world football by engaging new territories, new countries," he said.
Asked whether he would return to the position of president by 2018, Putin said he and his successor President Dmitry Medvedev would decide: "We will decide who will take which place and we will take a negotiated decision."
Putin said Russians were so passionate about football they even played during the siege of his home town of Leningrad during World War Two.
"Football was played even at that tragic time. It helped people to stand tall and survive," he said.
Asked whether Russia would accept black players given its problem with racism, he said his country was trying to tackle it, noting it was also a problem elsewhere in Europe.
Amid concerns over the massive infrastructure projects Russia will need to undertake, Putin promised the facilities would be built "on time and to perfection".comments