ST PETERSBURG: Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeated the promise of a visa-free World Cup for everyone who obtains a ticket for maches at the finals writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

Relations between Russia and western nations critical of its actions in Ukraine has been reflected in more pedantic demands on foreigners applying for visas to visit to 2018 World Cup host nation.

But Putin went out of his way to include a reference to the visa-free system in the remarks with which he launched the draw show at the Konstantinovsky Palace here in St Petersburg.

Putin came on stage with FIFA president Sepp Blatter to hail what he described as “a special day for millions of fans of the No1 game all over the world.”

He continued: “We are here to launch a football marathon of 180 national teams and we will be looking forward to hosting the strongest teams in 2018 for the first World Cup in the history of Russia.

“The World Cup is one of the biggest sports events with a special atmosphere of unity and overwhelming joy. Football is one of the most popular sports in Russia and abroad.

Tradition . . .

“Football clubs have a whole army of devoted fans. In Russia we have many dedicated initiatives to engage youth in a healthy lifestyle. Our country has long football traditions.

“Our guests from all over the world will become familiar with the unique history of our motherland. We will make the teams very comfortable so they can concentrate on the games. We will take every effort to ensure security and comfort for the fans. There will be visa-free entry for all those who have tickets.”

Russian organisers have been forced by the economic downturn enforced by western sanctions to cut back on some of the original infrastructure proposals but Putin insisted: “All the plans relating to hosting the World Cup will be implemented. Hosting the World Cup is one of the key national objectives through which we will show an open and multi-faceted Russia.”