March 19 – Russia has issued security guarantees to Arsenal fans planning to travel to Moscow for next month’s Europa League clash with CSKA in the wake of the diplomatic spat over the poisoning of a Russian double agent on British soil.
Moscow on Saturday announced the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to the British government’s identical measure over the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Britain issued a travel warning to anyone planning to travel to Russia after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the attack. That travel advice was reposted on Arsenal’s website after the Europa League draw was made on Friday.
But Russia’s World Cup organising committee chief Alexei Sorokin said Arsenal fans have nothing to fear.
“It is a shame that the games will be played in such circumstance,” said Sorokin, who is also a senior member of the Russian Football Union. “We will ensure security in equal measures to all – from dignitaries to fans. There are absolutely no grounds for such warnings. To us, there is no difference which country people come from or what our diplomatic relations with them are.”
Russia 2018 – to go or not to go
But while Gunners fans are being wooed to Russia with promises of security, a YouGov poll for the The Times newspaper found that 34% of people supported a boycott of the England team from the 2018 World Cup in Russia this summer. 39% wanted England to take part and 27% were not sure.
Amongst football fans 32% said England should boycott while 56% said the team should go and 12% were not sure.
Beyond the public opinion surrounding Russia’s nerve agent attack on British soil (Russia disputes that it was their agents), John Woodcock, chairman of labour’s backbench foreign affairs committee, said: “The government and FA must complete a full and transparent review of the safety of fans before both Arsenal’s visit to Moscow next month and the World Cup. We should be actively planning with our allies in NATO and the EU for a multilateral boycott at an official level or postponing the World Cup and finding a difference host nation in 2019.”
He raised concern about the 10-20,000 estimated English fans expected to travel to Russia and the heightened risk of violence tension between the two countries could create.
That the number of English fans predicted to travel to Russia is so low reflects Russia’s pricing out of the competition of ordinary fans through exorbitantly high hotel prices. In comparison, an estimated 240,000 English fans travelled to Germany in 2006 to experience the World Cup, most of them without tickets.
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