DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Fan violence in Russian football remains ''a concern'' but measures will be introduced including a better ticketing system and security cameras in stadiums to ensure fans are safe during the 2018 World Cup, the head of the tournament said on Tuesday.
Alexey Sorokin, speaking on the sidelines of a sports conference in Dubai, said he was ''disappointed'' Russia continues to be associated with football violence and admitted more needed to be done to stamp out the problem.
The issue was highlighted last month when a match between Dynamo Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg was called off after the Dynamo goalkeeper was injured by a firecracker thrown from the Zenit stands.
''We don't doubt that we can bring the security up to the level where it's absolutely safe both on the streets and inside the stadium,'' he said. ''We are not concerned that the security system will be compromised in any way. (Fan violence is) something that is disappointing, that somehow these things are associated with football and associated with Russian football. We will take very serious measures to avoid these things in the future.''
Sorokin also struck out at critics who have suggested that Russia and 2022 World Cup host Qatar won their bids unfairly. There have never been direct allegations of wrongdoing by Russia but the whole World Cup voting process was called into question after two members of FIFA's executive committee were suspended following a British newspaper investigation into vote-trading before the 2018 and 2022 decisions.
''We are clean and we didn't witness any hints from anyone, certainly not exco members or those around them, of improper activities,'' Sorokin said.
''There has been a lot of talk mostly about Qatar, regrettably, but us as well,'' he said. ''If anyone had any information, any proof would be out already. It seems nobody has anything tangible. Therefore there are only suggestions, insinuations. It has to stop somewhere. If there is anything, let them show. If there is nothing, let's stop the talk about it.''
Sorokin said it would have been ''suicide'' to denigrate another bid let alone try to buy off FIFA voters.
''It's stupid to even imagine that a bid leader or bid could openly offer money to somebody. It could be suggested by a person who has no clue about the bidding,'' he said. ''You are afraid about making the wrong move every day in terms of FIFA ethics, general ethics. You are afraid to compare yourself to another competitor, say something wrong in the media. To make such a step that would end your bid would be suicide.''
Asked why some voters may have switched their allegiance from England to Russia, Sorokin said it came down to a desire to reach new markets.
''The bid was based on very fundamental principles. These principles were very convincing for the football community,'' he said. ''First of all, it's a new frontier for world football. It's a new country, new market. This is a country with a lot of wealth and has every chance of becoming a sort of safe haven for FIFA for many years with perfect modern venues we are about to build with a lot of football professionals.''
As for the Russia team, Sorokin expects it will qualify outright for the tournament even though it has not reached the final since 2002.
''Every Russian fan expects the Russian team to perform. We were unlucky for South Africa (in 2010), we didn't make it,'' he said. ''We have rethought a lot of things, in terms of preparations for our team, in terms of approaches of improving the performance of our team. In Brazil, we hope to be among the leaders in that race and I would be very surprised if not.''