MOSCOW (AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin claims soccer and politics have nothing to do with each other, yet the World Cup he’s hosting is about much more than a ball game.
As the monthlong tournament opened, Putin is seeking to prove to the world that Russia is a global power broker and an open, confident nation. Russians hope it dispels their country’s image as an isolated, repressive place hobbled by sanctions.
Critics fear the Cup will legitimize Putin’s autocratic policies at home and Russia’s controversial actions abroad.
Racism, homophobia, conflicts over Syria and Ukraine – ”all these rebukes have no relation to the World Cup,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. ”Today the soccer dimension is the most important one.”
”Football and love” was the theme of the show ahead of Thursday’s kickoff match between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup