Harold Mayne-Nicholls hands a FIFA pennant to Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko at the closing press conference in Moscow today (Russia 2018)

(WFI) The head of FIFA’s inspection team evaluating the Russian World Cup bid says he is “impressed” by the personal assurances given by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and hails the country’s legacy plans.

Chilean FA president Harold Mayne-Nicholls praised the bid committee’s efforts in his closing statement at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that wrapped up four days of venue and city tours, briefings and meetings with government officials.

FIFA inspectors met with Putin in the Russian capital on Tuesday when the Russian PM emphasised the government’s commitment to funding and delivering the massive stadium and infrastructure project required to host the 2018 World Cup.

“Our whole delegation group was impressed about the Prime Minister’s level of interest and knowledge concerning the bid and football in general,” Mayne-Nicholls said.

“Concerning the stadium infrastructure all relevant authorities emphasized, that even if Russia would not gain the right to host the FIFA World Cup, the majority of upgrading measures will still go ahead.”

He said that following Russia’s staging of the 2013 Universiade Games in Kazan and 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a World Cup “would be the perfect opportunity for your country to prove to the world once again your organization skills on such a scale”.

But with most of the 16 stadiums being built from scratch and huge investment necessary to upgrade transport infrastructure he warned that Russia would have no time to lose in preparations if the country secured the 2018 tournament in December.

“I would like to emphasize that in case the FIFA Executive Committee decides in December that the World Cup will go for the first time in football history to Russia, work would need to start immediately, to guarantee that everything will be in place right in time,” he said.

“The main goal would be that the world’s number one sporting event will help to establish a bright future for Russian football.”

Since arriving in Russia on Monday, the six-man FIFA inspection team has visited stadiums in four proposed host cities: Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan and Sochi.

The commission received detailed presentations in each city and also visited the planned sites of training facilities, team base camps, fan fests, hotels, the venue for the preliminary draw and the proposed FIFA headquarters in Moscow.

Describing it as an “excellent visit”, Mayne-Nicholls praised the efforts of the bid committee, led by Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko and CEO Alexey Sorokin, and Sergey Fursenko, president of the Russian Football Union.

Mutko and Mayne-Nicholls at a bid promotional event in Kazan yesterday (Russia 2018)

In his closing remarks, Mayne-Nicholls also commented on the vast legacy potential of a World Cup in Russia.

He spoke highly of “Stadiums for the Children”, a legacy program that will see more than 1000 additional artificial football pitches installed around the country over the next five years for grassroots football. The “Futsal for School” program, which is expected to grow from 320,000 participating players to about 1.5 million by 2015, was also noted.

“The implementation of these programs as well as the inauguration of a student’s league should guarantee for the next years that football stays by far the number one sport in Russia,” Mayne-Nicholls added.

“This kind of legacy is exactly what FIFA is looking for.”

FIFA delegates also met with some of Russia’s footballing legends including Nikita Simonian and Alexei Smertin, former Russian captain and now the bid’s sports director. “His Youth Academy project and his legacy plans impressed us,” said the FIFA inspection chief.

One of the highlights of FIFA’s visit, he added, was the opening of three training centres for the upcoming Student Games in Kazan, events the inspectors shared with more than 1,500 football-mad youngsters.

Bid chairman Mutko appeared to be satisfied with how the FIFA inspection visit had gone.

Addressing the FIFA team before they left Moscow today, he said: “You have seen the enthusiasm of the people and how the various regions you have visited and the people in charge are behind our bid.

“A great deal of work is already in progress and more is still being needed, however, as we have said at the outset, we are fully determined in all our efforts to fulfil and excel the FIFA requirements and thus earn the right and privilege to host the FIFA World Cup.”

Russia is the fifth stop for the FIFA evaluation commission. On Monday, it arrives in England for a four-day evaluation.

Inspections of Spain-Portugal, USA and Qatar wrap up the two-month tour of the nine bidders vying to stage the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

FIFA inspectors will compile a report on their findings in the weeks after the Qatar visit concludes Sept. 17. Its recommendations will be submitted to the FIFA Executive Committee that votes on the hosts of the two tournaments in Zurich on Dec. 2.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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