It is no accident that St. Petersburg's Konstantinovsky Palace was chosen as the venue for the first board meeting of the year that brings together the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Local Organising Committee (LOC) and representatives of FIFA. Back in the 18th century, the palace, which sits on the stunning shoreline of the Gulf of Finland, surrounded by a number of magnificent parks and canals, served as one of the residences of the Russian imperial family. Later this year, on 25 July, it will host the first official event in the build-up to Russia 2018: the Preliminary Draw.

Preparations for the Preliminary Draw were the main item on the agenda of the board meeting. Delegates discussed the full list of events scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg in July. Aside from the draw itself, Russia's northern capital will be hosting a meeting for the World Cup Organising Committee, a seminar for teams taking part and an event for the Russia 2018 Host Cities. Members at the board meeting noted the positive tempo the organisers have been maintaining.

The discussion went much further than July's draw, however. The LOC provided an update on the construction of Russia 2018 stadia, as well as the training facilities and team bases that will be made available to the national teams in 2018. In addition, delegates were briefed on plans to come up with the tournament mascot, work that is due to begin later this year and is expected to reach out to a broad audience of football supporters.

The meeting was followed by a press conference involving senior officials from FIFA and the LOC.

FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke on the LOC board meeting:
I want to confirm that we are working very well together with the LOC. We are well on track for all the preparations, not only for the 2018 FIFA World Cup but not to forget that in 2017 we have the FIFA Confederations Cup. And it’s very important for us that the next big event is the Preliminary Draw that will happen here in St. Petersburg, a beautiful city. Konstantinovsky Palace will host this amazing event on 25 July this year. And I believe we will have a great World Cup in 2018 as we are all working hard to do so.

Valcke on the spectacle of the FIFA World Cup:
It’s not FIFA who attracts people – it’s football. The World Cup final attracts the world because the World Cup final is a unique event once every four years with more than a billion people watching it on the TV. We can fill many times the stadia. This is the factor of the FIFA World Cup. We had this in Brazil and we will have the same in Russia.

Chairman of the Russia 2018 LOC Vitaly Mutko on transportation planning:  
We’re working together with the cities on the transport blueprint for the tournament, and we’re cooperating with the Ministry of Transport, as well as with the Transport Directorate, which was set up at the Ministry specifically in order to handle all the transport requirements for Russia 2018. Our country has a wealth of experience of dealing with this sort of thing, and we will do everything to make sure that spectators can travel around Russia in comfort for the duration of the tournament.

Mutko on spending effectively and building stadia:  
We’re working within the framework of the budget that was adopted, and we won’t be going back on the commitments we’ve made. We’ll be sticking to the 2013 programme. In the current situation, FIFA has met us halfway, by agreeing to a reduction in the capacity of some of the stadia, and by, in certain cases, changing the blueprint. But we have no intention of changing anything else. In addition, we’re expecting to keep within the existing budget and avoid ramping up the cost of preparing for the tournament.