The 2018 FIFA World Cup – Russia
By Anastasiya Ryazanova – With Russia set to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, we wanted to take an early look at which threats one can potentially expect as a visiting fan. The football tournament will take place across Russia, from St Petersburg in the North to Sochi in the South. Russia is constructing five brand new football stadiums and upgrading or rebuilding a further four. Each town and city across the 12 stadiums and 11 locations will have a unique risk profile and potential threats associated with each location.
Sochi 2014 was Russia’s last major sporting tournament and is the best example of what football fans may find during the tournament. Despite the odd controversy, Sochi surprised the world by being a successful location to winter games. There were some incidents such as the protests by ethnic Circassians and terror threats by Dokka Umarov, however both of these issues were negated by a severe crackdown by Russian security services and the deployment of 40,000 law enforcement officials. Given that Sochi alone had 40,000 security officers, it is easy to imagine the scale of the security for the tournament. It will likely see the deployment of 100,000’s of police, intelligence and military assets who will be on constant watch for trouble.
Russia (and thereby President Putin) will be extremely keen to ensure a developed and orderly state is presented to the world and that everything runs to plan. Any disruption, regardless of origin, will meet resistance; whether it is Russia’s infamous football hooligans or demonstrations by political activists. It is also interesting to see how huge events, such as the Olympics 2014 and the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 encourage Russia to modernise the state closer to Western standards. Thanks to the Olympic legacy, Sochi has a congress hall for a thousand people and the Olympic infrastructure to attract tourists.
The following are some central concerns that are worth bearing in mind over the preparations for the first World Cup ever in Eastern Europe.
Many countries have football teams with violent groups of supporters; the UK is especially well known for teams such as Millwall and West Ham. Russian Hooligans however, seem to be a breed apart. What separates the Russian football Hooligans is a high level of organisation and ‘training’. Rather than get drunk and start a fight, groups such as the ‘Orel Butchers’ and the ‘Spartak Gladiators’ arrive with violence specifically in mind and often train and spar regularly in clubs and gyms. Many see English fans as their ‘opponents’ and wish to test their own strength against fans regarded as the ‘fathers’ of football hooliganism.
In a recent BBC documentary, a leader of the ‘Gladiators’ from the Spartak Moscow, has promised a ‘festival of violence’ for England fans visiting in 2018, but time will tell if this is a genuine threat or simply bluster. Russian Hooligans dominated (and caused) much of the violence at the Euro 2016 tournament. Though English and French fans violently clashed with each other, a small group of 200 organised, violent Russian fans attacked both groups with military precision.
The important question is will the Hooligans be at the 2018 FIFA World Cup? Russian fans believe that clashes will be prevented by the police, as Russian authorities are in the process of isolating all fan groups. This is a persuasive view given that due to the extensive security, there were no incidents at the Sochi Olympics. It may also be an unrealistic view, as the Olympics and football have very different sport cultures. Therefore, take caution in comparing the success of the winter games with the upcoming tournament. It is also likely that there will at least be an attempt by Russian fans to spark a fight. Overall, an outbreak of Hooligan violence at any tournament venue would appear as a loss of government control, a situation which Russia will be extremely keen to avoid. Whatever happens, Russia will be ready. Marseille was not.
Alleged Russian hacking has been in the news of late and it is worth bearing mind that Russian authorities can sift through your web and mobile data without a warrant (or a reason). In July, 2016 a new Internet surveillance law known as the ‘Yarovaya Package’ ensured that any app or program that was legally allowed to function in Russia had to have a back door. The implementation of the above is nearly impossible, but that may have been the point. By ensuring compliance is near impossible, the Russian government can give itself leverage over both Internet users and tech companies, allowing them to extract wanted concessions.
Russia also practices internet censorship and has created laws that prohibit ‘calling for illegal meetings’ and ‘violating the established order’. The effect of these laws is to create a ‘ways and means’ type of law that gives the Russian government the legal framework to ban any URL that it disapproves of. Numerous websites have fallen foul of the Russian Internet blacklist (known as Roskomnadzor https://reestr.rublacklist.net), such as Linkedin who were banned for not storing information about Russian citizens on servers located in Russia.
Host cities: distance and infrastructure
Something that visitors to Russia often fail to understand is its sheer size. The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in twelve stadiums, over eleven cities and throughout three different time zones. The average distance between the cities is 640 km, while the distance between cities Yekaterinburg (easternmost) and Kaliningrad (westernmost) is 3,000 km. For comparison, the distance between London and Moscow is 2,500 km. Russian transport experts state that such distances require a special approach to organising the transport. Therefore, when Russia won the right to host the tournament, it proposed the construction of a network of high-speed trains between many of the host cities. Some proposals have been shelved but there are still plans to complete a fast train to cut the journey time between Moscow and Kazan from 12 hours to 3.5 hours.
Transport and roads have always been a delicate topic in Russia. Inadequately managed roads, dangerous drivers and cheap cars all contribute to the lack of safety on the highway.
Air safety is another issue. The condition of the Russian internal air-fleet is very poor and this fact is confirmed sadly by international organizations.
There is no doubt all football teams and their fans will be safely delivered, roads will be reconstructed, trains will be built, and everything will be ‘just fine’. But the unfortunate question is ‘why does Russia need a push to start working on its own development?’
Similar to any state, crime will be an issue: the influence of alcohol, foreign tourists and the influx of money will present an irresistible combination to criminals. Pickpockets and thieves will likely be a constant issue throughout the world cup, as crowds of happy drunk fans will make extremely easy targets. Though the 11 host cities are some of the most developed in the former USSR, keep in mind that many hotels outside of Moscow and St Petersburg leave a lot to be desired in terms of your articles, safety and comfort.
Another relevant factor looming over the event is one of human rights abuses, particularly racism. Racism is real in European football, but in Russia it is felt particularly badly. Black and Asian visitors are unlikely to receive any trouble whilst staying in their hotels but whilst in the stands the mood may be different. Racist chants from Russian fans are a common feature and potentially violent individuals may target those who are deemed to look foreign.
Some of the loudest racism incidents were against footballers such as Theodor Gebre Selassie, Andre Bikey and Roberto Carlos. Feeling ignored by the Russian authorities, black players wanted to protest against the 2018 FIFA World Cup unless the country tackles racism, according to Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, who also happened to receive racist abuse from opposition fans playing in Russia.
There is no doubt that Russia has all the necessary means to protect its own country and visitors. During the tournament, the safety measures are expected to be extremely thorough.
Some security measures will also compromise freedom of Russian citizens, including temporary residency restrictions in hosts cities during the matches, limits on transportation, by air, road or sea and restrictions on movement of goods.
Ultimately, safety should come first but there is a question of need. Regarding the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there is indeed viable threats, however many safety measures are more likely to be a show of prestige and power than anything useful. Although Russia is far from Africa or Latin America in terms of violent crime, it is still far from being safe. Russia should consider its security measures not just for the World Cup or Olympics, but to better the life of its citizens after the tournament and in more locations than in 11 privileged cities.