Fifa president Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel Prize for his work leading football's governing body, said Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Two days after Putin appeared with Blatter in St Petersburg for the preliminary draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Russian President told Swiss broadcaster RTS: "I think people like Mr. Blatter, the leaders of international sports federations or Olympic committees, deserve special recognition. If anyone deserves the Nobel Prize, those people do."
Putin's remarks come after Blatter said he would be stepping down as president of Fifa amid accusations of widespread corruption among senior officials during his 17 years as head of the organisation. Blatter said he will remain in office until Fifa holds an extraordinary congress to elect its new president in February, 2016.
"We're all aware of the situation surrounding Mr. Blatter at the moment. I don't want to get into the details, but I don't believe a word about his being involved in corruption personally," said Putin.
Separate investigations by Swiss and US authorities are probing claims that Fifa officials accepted bribes in the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup and 2022 World Cup in Qatar. According to evidence from ex-intelligence agents submitted to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee in November 2014, Russian officials used corruption to secure the 2018 World Cup bid.
Putin questioned the reasons for the US investigation, noting that the US bid for the 2022 World Cup, and its ally the UK for the 2018 World Cup. "The way this fight against corruption is being conducted leads me to wonder if it's not a continuation of the fight for the 2018 and 2022 championships," Putin told RTS.