Political tensions between the UK and Russia after the Salisbury nerve agent attack could force some England football fans to alter their travel plans for this summer’s FIFA World Cup.
Some reports suggest ticket sales to England supporters are nowhere near the level they were for the last tournament in Brazil in 2014, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued new travel advice to anyone intending to visit Russia in June and July.
Russia is making final preparations to host the sport’s most prestigious tournament with England playing group games against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium in the cities of Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad.
Given the current political climate between the two countries, the FCO is urging travellers to steer clear of any protests and avoid commenting publicly on political developments while in Russia.
“Due to heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time,” warns the official FCO advisory.
England fan Max Bell, 25, from Scunthorpe had been planning a “two-week trip of a lifetime” with university friends, using public transport to travel across Russia, but has scaled back the itinerary.
“It has been a wrench, trying to work out what to do and where we should stay, but we’ve made our minds up,” Max told Sky News.
“We have decided to fly into Lithuania, stay there and drive up to Kaliningrad just for the final group game against Belgium. This was meant to be the trip of a lifetime but we’ve changed things round now.
“We’ve watched the news about Salisbury and followed it all closely and this is what we’re going to do.
“Of course, if England progress from the group and go a long way into the knockout stages we will have to look at it again.”
One report in The Times suggests the Football Association has sold fewer than 2,000 tickets to official supporters for England’s group games against Tunisia and Panama, and England does not even register in the top 10 countries for tickets already sold.
But one London-based tour operator is adamant that it will be a tournament to remember – for all the right reasons.
“The Russians have been superbly well-organised and extremely hospitable in all our dealings with them,” said Miles Saward from Sportoptions.com, the UK’s largest football and sports operator.
“We attended the Confederations Cup last year and that went very well indeed. As far as we are concerned it’s business as usual. There has been no drop off whatsoever.
“This is England at a World Cup Finals and England fans will travel and enjoy the tournament as they always do.
“Russia will want to put on a World Cup to remember and I’m sure they will.”
England’s opening Group G game is against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June.
From – SkyNews