President of Russia Vladimir Putin: President Blatter, ladies and gentlemen, friends. I am happy to welcome you to Russia, to the historical St Petersburg suburb of Strelna.
This is a special day for millions of fans of the number one game in the world. We are launching a grand football marathon of 180 national teams. They have 840 qualifying games ahead of them to determine the 31 strongest teams. We will be looking forward to welcoming them in Russia in 2018 at the first World Cup in the history of this country.
The FIFA World Cup is a major world sports event, a grand festival that leaves unforgettable impressions, a festival with a special atmosphere of unity and shared joy.
Football is one of the most popular sports both in this country and in the entire world. Football clubs have a huge army of fans. Football has priority place among sports and fitness programmes in Russia, and it is also part of the many educational initiatives directed at promoting sports and healthy living among young people.
This country has long traditions of playing football. Here today are some outstanding representatives of several generations of national football. I am certain that we will raise new talented players who will join the leading clubs and national teams. We cannot ignore here the success of our national youth team at the recent European Championship, where they won silver medals.
The selection of Russia as the host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will help enhance the popularity of this sport and broaden its geography. I believe this is what guided the members of the FIFA executive committee when they were selecting the host nation for the 2018 championship. This will enhance interest in football not only here in Russia, but in many of our neighbouring countries.
The 2018 tournament will take place in 11 cities located in regions with unique cultural traditions. Guests from all over the world will learn about the unique history of this country and its cultural diversity.
It is of principle importance for us to create impeccable conditions for the teams so they can fully concentrate on their game and demonstrate high-class football. Naturally, we will also do everything in our power to ensure security and comfort for the fans. One practical measure in this direction was the cancellation of entry visas for all World Cup ticket holders.
I would like to confirm once again that we will implement all our plans in preparing for the tournament. Hosting it is one of our key tasks and a good opportunity to demonstrate to the world Russia’s diversity and openness, its ability to surprise and inspire.
I wish all the teams good luck in the draw and in the qualifying matches. Thank you for your attention.