Vladimir Putin a father figure to football fans?

Written by Staff Writer

By Tasha Karagulova, CNN

Russian President Vladimir Putin has traveled around the world making speeches and sparking controversy, but we could have missed one of his most visible positions during his reign.

His personal role in the world of sport.

In Russia, he keeps a close eye on his country’s football team. An avid supporter himself, Putin has helped to bring international football (known as FIFA since 1998) to Russia for the first time.

He also gets involved in things that might affect the game, like negotiation on Russia’s behalf to secure a place at the FIFA World Cup.

If Russia qualifies, Putin would likely be one of the most high-profile faces to support it at the tournament.

When the details are negotiated, Putin’s involvement in world football has even extended to refereeing in games.

According to Russian news site Gazeta.ru , a member of Russia’s national women’s team claims that Putin approached him at a local sports event when he served as chairman of Russian Football Union (RFU) in 2009.

According to Yevgeniya Sydorchuk, he wanted her to challenge him for the position of Russia’s head refereeing official at FIFA World Cup.

“I had never seen Putin before and never expected to meet him,” she said. “I realized that he was our top man — because he was the FIFA president.

“I was so intimidated, and when he lost patience with my amateur language and arguments, he smiled and invited me to become a FIFA referee.”

Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, the FIFA World Cup will be hosted in Russia for the first time in four decades.

The country is hosting in June 2018, and will hold its last two group stage matches in Sochi in 2022. (Russia will replace North Korea as a 2022 host, moving Egypt.)

Sydorchuk’s resignation was accepted by the RFU, which reinstated her as Russia’s flag bearer for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Putin’s two son-in-laws have also held positions at FIFA, and he has welcomed world leaders including Sepp Blatter, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karina Mladenovic to see Russian football in action.

Meanwhile, Russia’s performance at FIFA World Cup 2018, when home fans will hope for at least a quarterfinal finish, has already attracted praise.

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