- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) - Even as Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup, football’s popularity there is plummeting to record levels.

According to figures released Monday by state-run pollster VTsIOM, 73 percent of Russians say they are “indifferent” to soccer, the highest proportion the pollster has ever recorded. The figure was only 43 percent 10 years ago.

Just eight percent of Russians said they were dedicated football fans, halved from 16 percent ahead of last year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is coordinating Russia’s World Cup preparations, blamed football’s lack of popularity on “many scandals,” an uninteresting domestic league and poor performances from the national team.

“Interest in football isn’t high now,” he said in comments reported by state news agency Tass.

Last season, attendances in the Russian Premier League hit a 19-year low, with around 10,000 spectators per game on average. League bosses say the fall in attendance is temporary, citing the closure of some stadiums for World Cup upgrades.

VTsIOM says it surveyed 1,600 people on June 20-21 with a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

The proportion of Russians who said they were indifferent to football rose sharply in June alone - up to 73 percent in the latest poll from 53 percent on June 6-7. That could be down to Russia’s national team losing 1-0 at home to Austria, a result which put in severe doubt its chances of qualifying for Euro 2016.

Russia is third in its group, behind Austria and Sweden, and outside the automatic qualifying places.

Recent coverage of football in Russian media has also been dominated by scandals, including infighting at the Russian Football Union, which is also struggling with debts that have meant national team coach Fabio Capello going without pay.

In the polling figures announced Monday, 53 percent of those questioned said they did not support the veteran Italian coach continuing in his job, against just 19 percent in favor. Russia has won two of its last 10 competitive matches.

The Russian Football Union is currently leaderless after president Nikolai Tolstykh was forced out in May following a financial dispute. Mutko, the sports minister, says he is considering running for the position.

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