Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

Moscow — It does not matter if British officials boycott the soccer World Cup, which will be hosted by Russia, Interfax news agency cited Russian Football Union vice-president Nikita Simonyan as saying on Wednesday.

"That’s their problem. What matters is whether the team comes, and it wants to come," Simonyan said.

The measure was one of a number announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday in response to the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

May said her government had found that Russia was "culpable" of the attack — a charge Moscow angrily denies.

"It is every fan’s choice, whether to come or not," Russia’s World Cup organising committee chief Alexei Sorokin told the RIA Novosti state news agency.

"It will have no impact on the quality of the tournament. We still intend to organise it at the highest level," said Sorokin.

The possibility of an English team boycotting the first World Cup staged in Russia has been heavily analysed by the Moscow press and irritated football officials.

Moscow’s Sport Express newspaper ran a story ahead of May’s announcement warning in a headline that "sport is being taken hostage".

May’s announcement should remove the worst-case scenario — an English boycott — for Russian organisers and the world football governing body Fifa.

But Sorokin still criticised May for giving a diplomatic snub to a tournament that has been associated closely with Vladimir Putin since the Russian strongman wrested the hosting rights away from England in 2010.

"It is a shame that not everyone adheres to the principle of football being outside politics," Sorokin said.

England faced a possible ban from the 2022 tournament in Qatar if it missed this year’s event.

Reuters, AFP