Finally arriving at Russia's World Cup party, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that hosting the 2018 tournament can help end his country's frightening Cold War image.
Putin said soccer fans will come to Russia for the matches and find that the reality is different.
"A lot of stereotypes rooted from the previous times, from the Cold War era, fly all over Europe — and they frighten people," Putin said through a translator. "It's not the time now to describe today's Russia. ... It's developing and by 2018 it will be stronger."
Putin flew to Zurich soon after FIFA gave Russia a convincing victory. Russia took a majority of second-round votes from Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands. England had a humiliating first-round exit.
Putin was expected to lead Russia's final presentation to FIFA voters, but opted out 24 hours earlier. His absence led to speculation that confidence back home was fading despite the Russian bid arriving in FIFA's Swiss home city as a strong favorite earlier in the week.
Questioned about his apparently strange strategy, Putin said he acted to ease the pressure on FIFA voters, some of whom have been subject to corruption allegations.
"I did this out of respect for them," Putin said.
The former Russian president began by reading a statement in English that appeared to be the speech he originally intended to read on stage at FIFA headquarters earlier in the day.
In it, he promised Russia would meet its promises to spend tens of billions of dollars on new stadiums and infrastructure.
"You can take my word for it, it will be up to the highest standard," Putin said. "New modern facilities will be built on time and to perfection."
With Putin declining to deliver Russia's bid message in person — despite long being heralded as "team captain" of the campaign — Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov served as a late substitute.
Shuvalov urged FIFA to help Russia achieve its modernizing mission more quickly.
"Bidding for the World Cup will help Russia to overcome its tragic past, all the difficulties of the 20th century," Putin's deputy said. "Only one (decision) you can take will make history."
He praised the "very brave and wise decision" awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa — another project that required FIFA to trust a developing country to deliver its showpiece event.
Alongside the politics and history, there was glamour — in promotional videos and on stage.
Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole vault world-record holder, and national team captain Andrei Arshavin stressed that Russia was changing and often misunderstood around the world.
Early in the 30-minute presentation, FIFA voters heard Winston Churchill's maxim that Russia was "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
"That Russia no longer exists," bid chief executive Alexey Sorokin said.
The World Cup would show off Russia as a country with "as much cultural and geographical diversity as possible."
Sorokin said Russia's 145 million people wanted "nothing more than to welcome the FIFA World Cup to our home for the first time in our history."
- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
- Andrei Arshavin
- Yelena Isinbayeva
- World Cup
- Deputy Prime Minister
- Cold War image