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Banned ex-FIFA president Blatter in Russia for World Cup

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Former FIFA President Joseph Blatter arrives at a hotel in Moscow, Russia, today.

MOSCOW >> Suspended former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has arrived in Moscow for a World Cup visit at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Blatter posed for photographs with fans from Mexico and Portugal on his arrival today at a five-star downtown hotel. The 82-year-old Blatter is banned from official football duty until October 2021 for financial misconduct during this 17-year rule.

But the FIFA ban doesn’t prevent him from attending games and he’s expected to see Portugal play Morocco on Wednesday at Luzhniki Stadium.

Blatter stopped briefly to greet a small group of reporters and said he just wanted to enjoy the World Cup.

“I am not here to analyze the games,” said the Swiss official, who has traveled to Russia with his partner Linda Barras.

This is Blatter’s first public appearance outside his native Switzerland since July 2015 when the World Cup qualifying draw was conducted in St. Petersburg.

Blatter shared the draw ceremony stage that day with Putin and could meet with the Russian leader this week.

Last year, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the invitation, saying: “Putin has a long and, you may say, friendly relationship with Blatter.”

Blatter voted for Russia to host the World Cup when it won a four-candidate contest in December 2010.

As FIFA’s CEO-general secretary, Blatter oversaw preparations for each World Cup from 1982 to 1998. He was elected FIFA president on the eve of the 1998 World Cup in France, and headed football’s world governing body for four more tournaments through 2014.

He announced his intention to resign from FIFA days after American and Swiss federal prosecutors unsealed sweeping investigations in May 2015 of corruption and bribery linked to international football and marketing officials, including some FIFA vice presidents.

A Swiss criminal proceeding was opened against Blatter in September 2015 for alleged financial misconduct, but no charges have been made. Using allegations from that case, FIFA’s ethics committee opened its own case and banned him for eight years. It was reduced to six by FIFA’s appeals panel.

His presence in Moscow can be an awkward distraction for FIFA and its new president, Gianni Infantino, who comes from a neighboring town in the same Swiss canon (state) as his predecessor.

Blatter remains an instantly recognizable, if often polarizing, figure to generations of football fans.

“I just saw him and said I have to take a picture with him,” Mexico fan Maximiliano Vazquez said after taking a photograph with Blatter. “He was friendly.”

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