Russian President Vladimir Putin has said FIFA chief Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel Prize for his work as head of world soccer’s governing body, which has been rattled by a corruption scandal.
"I think people like Mr. Blatter and the leaders of other major international sporting federations, or the Olympic Games, these people deserve special recognition and thanks from civic organizations,” Putin said in an interview with Swiss media, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin on July 27.
"If there is anyone who deserves the Nobel Prize, it's those people," Putin added in the interview, which was held July 25 and aired on Swiss television two days later.
Blatter announced he was stepping down as head of FIFA on June 2 amid U.S. and Swiss investigations of corruption in world soccer.
Swiss prosecutors are investigating alleged financial irregularities surrounding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have charged 14 current and former FIFA officials and associates on charges of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption.
Putin’s comments came on the same day he met with Blatter in St. Petersburg, where the outgoing FIFA boss announced a resolution by the organization’s executive committee offering full support for its earlier decision to conduct the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
A glitzy preliminary-round draw ceremony that same day was beamed live around the world from St. Petersburg, sending the message that the finals would take place despite allegations that voting irregularities in 2010 secured Russia the hosting rights.
Putin said in his interview with Swiss media that "we all know the situation developing around Mr Blatter right now."
"I don't want to go into details, but I don't believe a word about him being involved in corruption personally," Putin said.
Putin had previously criticized the U.S. investigation into alleged corruption in FIFA as interference in affairs outside the scope of its jurisdiction.
In his interview with Swiss media, he hinted that the U.S. probe could be linked to the earlier unsuccessful British and U.S. bids to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
“The way this battle against corruption looks makes me wonder whether it is a continuation of the battle for 2018 and 2022,” Putin said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP