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How safe is Russia for fans travelling to the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

Officials have estimated that over 1 million football fans from across the world will descend on Russia over the coming weeks for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. And despite their insistence that the invasion will have a long-term positive effect on the country’s tourism, there’s still strong concerns about the safety of fans travelling to Russia this summer. 

From the persistent violence in Marseille, France during the 2016 UEFA European Championship tournament to the most recent political unrest, the tensions between Russia and the West have reached an all time high. So, is Russia safe for fans travelling to the World Cup?

Russia is, without doubt, a controversial and politically-charged country that offers a multitude of different threats during the 2018 World Cup, varying from terrorism to corruption and hooliganism. Considering the current diplomatic relations, it seems that there is a strong possibility that those travelling from England will experience attacks of anti-British sentiment or harassment.

The Foreign Office, British Police and the government unite to reassure English fans travelling to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia that they will be safe at England’s qualifying matches and within the designated city centre fan zones. However, they have done little to ease the safety concerns of fans travelling around Russia in between games.

With the multiple threats of a terrorist attack from the Islamic State and a long history of racism, homophobic attitudes and alcohol-fuelled violence, it’s unknown just how safe Russia will be for fans from any country during the football tournament.

LGBT fan groups from across the world have received threats from Russian vigilantes warning them not to attend the tournament, claiming that homosexuals are not welcome in their country. Russia currently has no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexuality which could mean that the LGBT community are not only a target but will not receive adequate protection from the state whilst in the country.

During previous international sporting events, a mixture of alcohol and nationalism has played a significant part in the violence that ensued between football matches. Clashes amongst German, Polish, and Russian fans at the 2012 European Championships as well as fighting between Brazilian and Argentinian fans at the same event were a result of nationalism based hostility.

Racism has also been a driver of violence in the past. At the 2008 European Championships in Switzerland-Austria, some German fans chanted anti-Semitic songs after beating Poland in the opening round. Russian football followers also chanted racist-themed songs and displayed illicit banners at the Czech Republic’s only black player at the 2012 European Championship resulting in a violent outbreak between fans.

In terms of terrorism, the Islamic State have issued several threats aimed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Several images depicting attacks on host stadiums, the teams and even specific players have been distributed on social media by the Islamic State propaganda arm known as the Wafa Media Foundation.

Since September 2015, when the Russian Federation overtly joined the Syrian civil war, the country has experienced numerous successful attacks by terrorists linked to or inspired by extremist groups. Although Russia’s intervention in Syria is a definite aggravator, experts guarantee there would still be a serious terror threat without it. The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious and high-profile event in football; attracting cameras, attention and therefore, terrorists.

IS and other militant groups have previously made threats to attack the 2016 European Championship and the 2017 Women’s European Championship, both of which passed without incident. The propaganda could simply be a ploy to gain media coverage and instil fear in the fans travelling to Russia for the 2018 World Cup.

In order to minimise risk, the government has banned planes and drones from flying over or near the stadiums of each of the 11 host cities. Authorities have also placed severe restrictions on the movement of vehicles, public meetings and the sale of weapons, explosive substances and alcohol between the beginning of June and the end of July.

Whilst Russian authorities proclaim that the safety of fans is of their utmost priority by enforcing rigorous security measures, strict rules and heightened surveillance, it’s strongly advised that if you’re currently in Russia or due to travel in the coming weeks, you should subscribe to the Foreign Office travel alerts in order to be kept aware of any changing circumstances.

Intelligence Fusion will also be closely monitoring potential threats throughout the 2018 FIFA Russia World Cup, updating our social media feeds with the latest news, incidents and security alerts.

Fans concerned about their safety in Russia can also download our FREE Quick Guide for Travellers to the 2018 FIFA Russia World Cup that includes a complete rundown of the current situation and possible dangers as well as providing advice and guidance on how to remain vigilant and manage risk when travelling to and around Russia for the World Cup tournament.

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