‘Highest level’ security measures set to be put to the test at World Cup
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Given sport’s global popularity and football’s status as the most popular sport, it is perhaps surprising that the beautiful game was not really touched by the ugliness of terrorism until November 13, 2015.
But the events of that awful night in Paris, where France were playing Germany in a friendly, have changed the way major football matches are policed beyond recognition, particularly in cities that have suffered terrorist outrages before.
Sadly, Moscow, St Petersburg, Volgograd and several other World Cup venues are such cities, so Russia 2018 will resemble France 2016 in many ways, with talk of rings of steel, police in riot gear and soldiers for back-up.
Those European Championships in France went off without any security scares, of course, just as the organisers promised. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about football’s other violence-related issue: hooliganism.
Old-fashioned thuggery was back in a big way in the bars, squares and stadiums two summers ago and the fact that much of it involved Russian thugs organised in almost para-military fashion provides the other great security scare coming into this World Cup.
Like other recent hosts, the Russian government introduced a raft of extra security measures by presidential decree last May. Their aim was to control movement in and around the venues and they were successfully trialled at last year’s Confederations Cup.
According to local reports, those measures will be stepped up for the main event, with more boots on the ground, more powers to stop and search and more surveillance. There also appears to be something of a crackdown in operation against Islamic separatists in Russia’s two most troubled regions, Chechnya and Dagestan.
There has been a similar response on the hooligan front, with hundreds of Russian ultras given banning orders and curfews for the duration of the World Cup, although a more cynical view is to say they have simply been demobilised by their political masters.
While Kalashnikovs and the Kevlar will attract the most attention, the key to the Russian security plan for the World Cup is actually a small piece of plastic that all ticket-holders, from home and abroad, will be expected to carry when they attend games.
The idea is that supporters will embrace the FAN-ID concept and wear them around their necks like a badge of honour, and the quid pro quo for making yourself so readily identifiable is no-visa entry to Russia for foreigners and free public transport on match-days for everyone.
Each laminated document will have a photo of the ticket-holder and their name in English and Russian. All ticket-holders have been urged to register for their FAN-IDs online and they can be delivered by post or collected at distribution centres near the venues.
FIFA was impressed with the local organising committee’s efforts at the Confederations Cup and, despite Russia’s increasingly fraught foreign relations, is confident the hosts can and will deliver a World Cup that is safe for fans and a success for the game.
After all, ice hockey fan Vladimir Putin only backed the idea to go for the World Cup because he was persuaded it would show Russia in a good light.
In a statement released to Press Association Sport, FIFA security director Helmut Spahn said: “The ongoing cooperation with the Russian authorities and the security representatives of all participating countries is very positive and there is a regular exchange.
“The Russian authorities, who are ultimately responsible for national security matters in the country, have been working hard to ensure the highest levels of security and to enable all fans to have the best possible experience at the World Cup, as already seen at the Confederations Cup.
“Ultimately, our main objective is to provide the highest security standards with the least possible restrictions.”