England fans could face ‘anti British sentiments’ in Russia
LONDON: England fans heading to Russia for the World Cup have been warned to be alert to “anti-British sentiment” and advised that Russians can be more “emotional” than anticipated.
In an advice booklet issued by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), fans travelling east have been told to “trust their instincts” to avoid being a victim of crime, but follow the security and political situation closely while abroad.
The FSF, which has some 500,000 members across England and Wales, cited both the targeting of England supporters in Marseille by Russian hooligans during Euro 2016 and the heightened geopolitical tensions as reasons to be vigilant while supporting the national team.
“While the British embassy in Moscow is not aware of any increased difficulties for British people travelling in Russia… [fans should] remain vigilant to the possibility of anti-English or ant-British sentiment,” the FSF said, adding that “many perceive Russians as either reserved or unexcitable – they are in many cases actually more emotional than ‘Westerners’”.
Turning to the concerns of LGBT fans, the FSF says that “although same-sex sexual activity has been decriminalised in Russia since 1993, it is strongly understood and advised that you do not publicly display your sexuality, but this is up to the individual”.
In 2017 Russia was ranked 48th out of 49 European countries for the protection provided from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The FSF also raised concerns that president Vladimir Putin has not reassured the LGBT community ahead of the World Cup as he did before the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It said it believes the reported “rounding up” and alleged detainment, torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya, said to have begun in 2016, targeting more than 200 people, is “not only ongoing, but has extended to other areas of the North Caucasus”.
“The areas of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other Muslim regions within the North Caucasus should be avoided,” the advice said.
The Foreign Office (FCO) has issued guidance advising that “public attitudes towards LGBT+ people are less tolerant than in the UK”.
Racism is another area both the Foreign Office and Football Supporters’ Federation have drawn attention to.
The FCO has advised fans to report any racist chanting during matches to the nearest steward, adding Fifa and the Russian Football Union “have been clear that racist abuse will not be tolerated during the tournament”.
The FSF said: “The majority of visitors experience no issues, although unfortunately racially motivated attacks do occur.
“People of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent may sadly attract unwanted attention when in public, particularly late at night. As always it is advisable to stay in groups and not travel or explore areas alone.”
The booklet also touches on other areas of safety, including advice to fly internally only on “major airlines”, to be careful of crossing the road as Russian motorists do not always obey red lights and guidance to any victim of sexual assault to first contact a doctor, before the British embassy.
The number of England fans attending the tournament in Russia, which starts in a fortnight, is thought to be smaller than in past years, with the 28,000 tickets purchased paling in comparison to the 94,000 bought for Brazil 2012.
However, MPs, including Boris Johnson, have expressed concern over the safety of the travelling support. Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs select committee, described Kaliningrad, where England play Belgium at the end of June, as a “hotbed of Russian nationalism”.