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Mihir Bose | 10:43 UK time, Monday, 19 May 2008

Uefa president Michel Platini has achieved something that, so far in the field of sport, has been the exclusive preserve of the International Olympic Committee.

That is to make a government accept that a sporting ticket or accreditation can act as a visa to enter the country, no further visa being required.

This has long been standard requirement for cities that host Olympic Games.

When the city signs what the IOC calls the 'host city contract', it has to get its government to agree that at the time of the Games the accreditation given by the IOC will act as a visa. No further visa will be required.

This does not mean that governments cannot stop people entering the country if they have Olympic accreditation, as the Australians demonstrated before the Sydney Olympics.

But they need to justify it on grounds of national security or such state matters.

Football, however, has never secured the powers that Olympics have.

Platini, I understand, worked hard with the Russian government when he spent some time in Moscow at the time the Uefa Champions League trophy was handed over to the Russians.

He used what is a normally a routine occasion with lots of speeches and platitudes to work behind the scenes to get the Russians to agree.


That Platini succeeded is testimony to his both skills and Russian appreciation that, with two English teams in the final, demand for visas would be high and failure to get them might cause yet more unwelcome media attention in the English press.

As it is, the British media has already had many critical articles about Russia staging the final, with some even suggesting that once it was clear two English teams were to be in the final, it should have been immediately moved to Wembley.

Attractive as the idea may have sounded to the British, it would have proved an impossibility given the preparations that Moscow had already made for the final.

How interesting that in 2003, when Italian teams Juventus and AC Milan met in the final at Old Trafford, nobody in Italy suggested that the final be immediately moved to Milan or Turin.

I wonder how the British media would have reacted had that demand been made.

It is also worth nothing that the Russian decision to treat the tickets as visas is in marked contrast with how the British government behaved when the supporters of Zenit came to Manchester for the Uefa Cup Final.

The Russian visitors to this country were not required to pay the visa fee, but they had to get a visa all the same.

I suspect the Russian desire to waive visa requirements shows their intense desire to make this final a success, part of a long-term plan to rescue Russian sport from the decline it has suffered since the collapse of communism.

Whatever the outcome of the match, the Russians are well aware that a successful staging of this first ever Champions League Final in eastern Europe, if you ignore Belgrade in 1973, means a lot to their future ability to stage major sporting events.


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