FIFA President Sepp Blatter deserves a Nobel Prize, Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed, after the international football's governing body was rocked by the biggest corruption scandal in its history.
As Russia's successful bid to host the World Cup remains central to the investigation saga still being carried out by both US and Swiss authorities, Blatter received nothing but supportive words from the Russian president.
In the latest display of flattery between the pair, Putin said the embattled head of FIFA deserves praise for his work in an interview that aired Monday.
"We all know the situation developing around Mr Blatter right now," Putin said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS. "I don't want to go into details, but I don't believe a word about him being involved in corruption personally ... People like Mr Blatter...deserve special recognition. If there is anyone who deserves the Nobel Prize, it's those people."
Putin's comments come in the wake of several high-profile FIFA officials having been arrested over corruption charges. Blatter has fiercely denied any wrongdoing and has insisted he has a "clear conscience."
Blatter, in turn, has warmly congratulated his host in Russia as the pair carried out the preliminary draw for the 2018 World Cup.
"Thank you, President Putin, you make us happy and comfortable," said Blatter, who was making his first trip outside his native Switzerland since American and Swiss investigations of corruption in soccer were revealed in May.
On Saturday, Blatter told Putin that the Russian people "can be proud" of him and that FIFA says "yes to Russia, we are providing our support."
Russia's World Cup bid victory is still under scrutiny in a sensational investigation that also focuses on the 2022 bidding campaign, won by Qatar.
The American case has named three former FIFA vice presidents among 14 soccer and marketing officials indicted in May on widespread racketeering charges. A further four men have pled guilty in the widening case that is also expected to target Blatter and the 2018-2022 World Cup bid contests.
Last week, Putin said that he was sure Blatter was not corrupt. He added that, by making allegations against FIFA, the Americans and their allies in Britain were continuing to fight the World Cup bidding contest. Both the United States and Britain bid for the tournaments won by Qatar and Russia.
Blatter has doggedly held on to his post through years of FIFA corruption allegations, always insisting that he could not be held responsible for the actions of individual bad apples and that he was the man to clean up the organization.
But following the arrest of the string of FIFA's top officials, accused by the US Department of Justice of money laundering and racketeering on a massive scale over three decades, Blatter apparently changed his mind.
Blatter has long coveted a Nobel Peace Prize for FIFA on behalf of world soccer, but the corruption cases appear finally to have ended that hope.
On June 15, the Nobel Peace Center in Norway terminated its cooperation with FIFA, which consisted of a project called "Handshake for Peace." FIFA criticized the Nobel organization the next day for lacking fair play and publicly announcing the split.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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