FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter visited Russia on 18 January for the opening of the XXI Commonwealth Cup, a competition he has been attending every year for the last 20 years.
The competition brings together U-21 teams from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This year, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Tajikistan (Group A), Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan (Group B) and Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkmenistan (Group C) are all competing for a place in the final which will take place on 27 January 2013.
Present at the opening ceremony were a number of dignitaries alongside the FIFA President, including Sports Minister and FIFA Executive Committee Member Vitaly Mutko, the Vice-Governor of St. Petersburg Vassili Kitigi, the Governor of St. Petersburg Region Alexander Drozdenko, the President of the Football Union of Russia, Nikolai Tolstykh and the CEO of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Local Organising Committee Alexey Sorokin.
At this opening ceremony, Blatter first mentioned his "respect and emotions on this special day, as it's exactly 70 years that Leningrad, now St Petersburg, saw the end of its blockade. My thoughts are with the city and the population."
The FIFA President was referring to the Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade, which was a prolonged military operation undertaken by the German Army against Leningrad during the second World War (8 September 1941 - 18 January 1943).
President Blatter continued, speaking in Russian, saying: "Football has no borders, that's why I have come here for 20 years, because the Commonwealth Cup unifies people. With the FIFA World Cup 2018, it's people from the entire world who will gather, because football is more than a game.” On Saturday 19 January, the President will meet representatives of Member Associations of the region.