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FIFA Chief Downplays Rights Concerns Ahead Of World Cup In Russia

FIFA President Gianni Infantino
FIFA President Gianni Infantino

The president of soccer's world governing body has downplayed concerns about racism, human rights, and security and instead praised Russia, saying it is "100 percent ready" to host the World Cup next week.

Russia will host the tournament from June 14 to July 15 at 12 stadiums in 11 cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Sochi.

"Russia wants to prove to the world at this World Cup that it is an open country, where people can come, where people can celebrate football," FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on June 6.

"I have never experienced a country which does as much to make fans welcome, with the fan-ID, free visa, free transport," he said.

Russia has faced scrutiny ahead of the tournament over issues ranging from human rights to security, hooliganism, and racist incidents during matches. But Infantino said that the focus of the tournament will be soccer, not "politics."

"I wouldn't say that I am concerned about discrimination, human rights, or security, but obviously we take this very, very seriously and we've taken appropriate measures," Infantino said.

"For the first time we have been checking the construction of stadiums, the sites to make sure conditions for the workers are correct.... Concrete progress has been made in terms of human rights and the way we deal with human rights questions," he said.

FIFA also fined Russia $30,422 last month for racist chants by fans directed at French players during a friendly match in March.

Infantino said he did not believe hooliganism will be a problem and he expected a "safe environment" for fans.

"You cannot guarantee everything, but I would not recommend anyone going to Russia with the intention of making trouble," he said.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters

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