Fifa president Sepp Blatter has rounded on those calling for a boycott of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and claimed holding the tournament there will bring peace to the region.
This week Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called on his allies to consider boycotting the tournament if Russia did not pull its troops out of Ukrainian territory.
But the 79-year-old said “a boycott of any sporting event has never brought any solutions”, called for an end to “political interference” from the European parliament and insisted the World Cup would definitely take place in Russia in three years’ time.
“In my opinion the World Cup in Russia will be able to stabilise the situation in this region of Europe that is suffering now,” he said. “I am sure that football is stronger than any other movement.”
Blatter, who met the emir of Qatar last weekend, also claimed at Fifa's executive committee meeting that progress was being made on the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state that will host the 2022 tournament, just one of many issues that have bedevilled preparations for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
Despite the Qatari minister for labour last week admitting no firm timetable was in place for introducing reforms to the much-criticised kafala system promised last year, Blatter said the emir had given him reassuring and positive news.
Human rights groups have lobbied for improvements to the treatment of the army of migrant construction workers building the infrastructure that will underpin the World Cup although Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke tried to limit Fifa’s exposure to those working on the stadiums.
“In the five stadiums under construction, the standard for the workers is higher than any other construction site in Qatar,” Valcke said.
Qatar 2022 chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi insisted progress was being made on the issue.
“There are some good examples of stakeholders taking on board our experience and it becoming part of the wider system,” he said.
“I can’t talk about the timelines. In the end progress has to be made. It’s as simple as that. Progress is being made on the ground.”