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Russia PM Vladimir Putin thanks Fifa for World Cup vote

Mr Putin at Fifa news conference in Zurich
Image caption Mr Putin said the vote was a "tough and fair fight"

Russian PM Vladimir Putin has thanked Fifa "from the bottom of my heart" for choosing Russia to be the host of the 2018 World Cup.

Arriving in Zurich, Mr Putin said the competition would be held to the highest standards.

He said it had been a "difficult decision" not to come for the result earlier in the day.

He did so out of respect for Fifa members who, he said, had been under unacceptable and unjustified pressure.

A recent investigation by the BBC's Panorama programme, which was broadcast on Monday, accused three executive committee members of accepting payments and alleged Fifa vice-president Jack Warner attempted to supply ticket touts.

Russia was selected as 2018 host ahead of co-bidders Spain-Portugal, Holland-Belgium and England. Qatar won the 2022 bid.

'Tough and fair fight'

Russia received nine votes in the first round of voting and an outright majority of 13 in the second round.

Mr Putin said the decisiveness of Russia's victory in two rounds had been "absolutely unexpected".

"We are honoured to win in this tough and fair fight," he said.

"From the bottom of my heart, thank you."

Mr Putin said that in Russia, football "brings a spark into the lives of people young and old".

He recalled the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis in World War II, saying football matches were played even then despite harsh living conditions and the lack of food and heating.

The Russian prime minister had been expected to be a prominent figurehead for the Russian bid in the final days of campaigning but instead he remained in Moscow, leading to speculation that Russia's bid was likely to fail.

But Mr Putin explained that his absence was prompted by the corruption allegations against Fifa executive members.

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Media captionThe moment Russia won 2018 World Cup bid

"I did this out of respect," he said. "There was unacceptable campaigning that was deployed for the World Cup in 2018."

"People were accused of corruption. There were accused without any grounds, without any reasons, no justifications."

The Russian leader's presence in Guatemala in 2007 for the announcement of the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics is thought to have been a key factor in choosing the Russian city of Sochi.

Free transport

Mr Putin's promise to scrap visas for people in possession of tickets for the competition was seen as crucial to his country's prospects of winning the vote, as nationals of almost all countries outside the former Soviet Union must obtain permission to visit Russia.

There had been concerns that Russia's vast size, its remoteness from other countries and what is seen as a relatively weak transport system could make travelling around the country problematic.

All the host cities are in the European region of the country and Mr Putin has promised that fans will be able to travel on public transport for free during the event.

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