The FCO’s preparations for the 2018 World Cup Contents

1Risks to UK nationals

4.Our inquiry identified a number of risks that face UK nationals travelling to Russia for the World Cup. These include: hooligan violence; attacks motivated by racism, homophobia, or anti-British sentiment; and terrorist attacks.

Hooligan violence

5.The threat of violence by Russian football hooligan groups has been a “specific focus” of the FCO’s preparations for the World Cup.3 These groups have a history of violent clashes with supporters of rival teams. At the 2016 European Championships in France, fighting between England and Russia fans left at least five UK nationals seriously injured and 30 hospitalised.4 Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the national lead on football policing, described the violence as “horrific”.5 The UK and French authorities attributed the worst of the violence to “co-ordinated groups of Russian supporters”,6 who were “well prepared for ultra-rapid, ultra-violent action”.7

6.The Russian government’s response fell short of clear condemnation of the violence, and President Vladimir Putin questioned how “200 of our fans could beat up several thousand English”.8 One senior Deputy of the State Duma, who sits on the executive committee of the Russian football association, praised the fans for defending “the honour of their country”.9 Russian hooligan culture is linked to far-right and nationalist politics, and some politicians have sought to cultivate direct connections with these groups, including by offering jobs to their members, as journalist Simon Parkin told us.10

7.Since Euro 2016, the Russian government has launched an “unprecedented crackdown” against hooligan groups.11 The FCO told us that a group alleged to have been involved in the violence in France had been “effectively banned”,12 and referred to a Russian government “blacklist of known troublemakers”.13 In the months leading up to the tournament, Moscow has reportedly increased the penalties for misconduct at sports events,14 carried out a series of raids and arrests against known members of hooligan groups,15 and published a list of over 450 people who are banned from attending official sports competitions.16 However, Simon Parkin told us that, while these measures have reduced the risk of widespread, major violence during the World Cup, the authorities “cannot possibly control those hooligans who operate at the margins”.17

LGBT football fans

8.In addition to the general threat of violence against football fans, we were told that some groups might face heightened risks. LGBT individuals in Russia not only face the risk of violence from vigilante groups, but lack adequate protection from the state. According to the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016, LGBT individuals are at significant risk of “persecution and violence, with the Russian government taking little action to combat homophobia”.18 One study documenting violence against LGBT people found that Russian police were “dismissive and reluctant to investigate effectively”, and “did little to protect victims.”19 In April 2017, the FCO condemned the reported mass detention, torture and killing of gay men in Chechnya, and called on the Russian authorities to investigate.20 A year later, no investigation has taken place, as Stonewall, a campaign group, noted.21

9.The far-right culture of Russian hooligan groups could place LGBT fans at particular risk of violence during the World Cup. Pride in Football, an alliance of LGBT fan groups, gave us copies of two threatening emails it had received that used homophobic language, and warned that LGBT people would not be welcome in Russia for the tournament. One made explicit threats of violence, and included an image of a knife (see below).22 Russia’s World Cup Local Organising Committee has been sent the emails, but has not yet responded, according to Pride in Football.23 Another risk factor for LGBT fans at the World Cup is the dispersal of large numbers of foreign visitors to provincial Russian cities. Some of the host cities have a “very different regime” to St Petersburg on LGBT issues, according to the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF).24

10.LGBT individuals in Russia also risk prosecution: in 2013, the country implemented a law banning propaganda on “non-traditional sexual relations”.25 The FCO travel advice warns that “the definition and scope of prohibited activity is vague”, and that foreign nationals convicted under the law could face arrest, detention, fines and deportation.26 The Russian football association has said that the law will not criminalise fans for displaying the rainbow flag, or for “expressing feelings”.27 The FCO told us that it had received assurances from the Russian football association regarding the display of the rainbow flag in football grounds.28 However, the FSF said that Russian LGBT groups had advised them to take these assurances “with a pinch of salt”.29 Stonewall also told us that LGBT groups in Russia “have questioned whether fans who raise the rainbow flag at World Cup matches will be safe”, and pointed out that the former chair of the Russian LGBT Network was detained while holding a rainbow flag at a demonstration on 1 May.30 Pride in Football told us that, if the commitments of the Russian football association were delivered, “perhaps […] we’ll feel safe enough to hold up a rainbow flag”.31 The FSF’s guide to fans also states that LGBT rights have been a “taboo” for the authorities in the lead-up to the tournament, unlike when the country hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.32

11.The FCO told us that it had discussed the security of LGBT fans with Russia’s Local Organising Committee and with host cities, and had received assurances on the safety of “fans of all backgrounds”.33 It said it would “continue to raise our concerns” with the Russian authorities.34 However, when we pressed Harriett Baldwin MP—the FCO Minister of State with responsibility for consular policy—repeatedly on this issue, her response about the nature of the assurances was vague.35 Moreover, when we asked the Minister whether she had confidence in the ability and willingness of the Russian police to keep UK nationals safe, regardless of their background or sexual orientation, she did not offer this assurance, but instead stated that: “the approach to policing in Russia is different from the approach to policing at a football match in the UK.”36

BAME football fans

12.The FCO’s travel advice warns of “racially motivated attacks” in Russia, and states that travellers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent may “attract some unwanted attention in public places and should take care”.37 As with LGBT football fans, the far-right culture of Russian hooligan groups could place BAME fans at a greater risk. Simon Parkin described hooligan groups as “a machine for recruiting and radicalising young men to the far right” that has “seeded racist ideology at the centre of the country’s football culture”. He noted that, despite the government’s crackdown on hooligans, a “general atmosphere of racism and homophobia remains at football matches”.38

13.Racism is common in Russian stadiums: anti-discrimination groups recorded 190 racist or far-right incidents in Russian football between June 2015 and May 2017.39 Since September 2017, three matches involving English and Russian teams have been followed by allegations of racial abuse committed by fans or players, though only one resulted in official sanctions.40 In May 2018, FIFA fined the Russian football association over racist chants by fans against French players.41 However, the association’s anti-discrimination chief has previously denied that racism exists in Russia, stating that “It is something against the opposition, not against a person.”42

Political tensions

14.The deterioration in UK-Russia relations following the Salisbury incident could increase the risk of violence against UK nationals during the World Cup. Following the incident, the FCO updated its travel advice to warn UK nationals in Russia that, due to “heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment”.43 The UK police have said that the deterioration in relations means that any provocative actions by UK fans are more likely than usual to trigger violence, warning that displaying a St George’s flag in public could bring “increased attention and risk”.44 Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold, of the Henry Jackson Society and Muskingum University, respectively, told us that there is a risk that UK nationals could be the targets of hostile actions by the Russian state during the World Cup, such as being arrested for organising a public event without permission. They also expressed concern about the willingness and ability of the Russian police to prevent low-level crimes against UK nationals.45

15.Despite these tensions, the FCO considers that the risks fall short of the level where it would be appropriate to advise UK nationals not to attend the World Cup. The Foreign Secretary told the House on 15 May: “We are not actively trying to dissuade fans preparing to go to Russia for the World Cup, as we do not think that would be right.”46 The FCO told us that it would only advise UK citizens not to travel in “a very serious situation where we did not feel that we could guarantee the safety of UK citizens travelling,” and said “that is not our current assessment.”47

Terror threat

16.Terrorists are “very likely” to try to carry out attacks in Russia, according to the FCO, while groups aligned with al-Qaeda and Daesh continue to call for attacks.48 Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold stated that Daesh had issued threats against the World Cup. They argued that the terror threat in Russia has evolved since the country hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014, going from a regional jihadi project to an international one with firm links to the country, while Russian involvement in Syria has popularised the cause of anti-Russian attacks.49

Risks to UK nationals: Conclusions

17.Russia presents particular risks as a World Cup host, due to the history of violence by football hooligans; intolerance and discriminatory state policy towards LGBT individuals; the history of racist abuse in and around football matches; current heightened political tensions; and the threat of terrorist attacks. We remain concerned about the safety of UK fans travelling to Russia, and the apparent lack of specific provisions to protect targeted groups, particularly LGBT football fans.

18.The Committee calls on the FCO to set out, clearly and publicly, the specific assurances it has received from the Russian authorities on the safety of LGBT fans, including on how the “anti-propaganda” law will be applied to foreign visitors, so that fans can make an informed decision based on the level of risk to which they will be exposed. LGBT fans should have as much information as possible on the extent to which they can expect to be safe if, for example, flying the rainbow flag, engaging in public displays of affection, or using bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.


5 Q10

6 HC Deb 14 June 2016 Col 1633

9 Moscow football official to violent fans: well done lads, keep it up!, The Guardian, 13 June 2016; Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold (WCR0003)

10 Simon Parkin (WCR0002)

11 Russian Hooligans’ Toughest Opponents? Russia’s Police, The New York Times, 28 April 2017; Simon Parkin (WCR0002)

15 Russian Hooligans’ Toughest Opponents? Russia’s Police, The New York Times, 28 April 2017; Simon Parkin (WCR0002)

17 Simon Parkin (WCR0002)

18 Human Rights and Democracy 2016, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, July 2017

20 Minister condemns persecution of LGBT community in Chechnya, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 7 April 2017

21 Stonewall (WCR0005)

22 The Russian text in the email can be translated as follows: “Fucking faggots, your mothers’ throats will be ripped open, come and get stabbed, Russia is waiting for you”.

23 Pride in Football (WCR0006). As of 15 May 2018

25 Foreign travel advice: Russia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated its advice, and details may have changed.

26 Foreign travel advice: Russia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated its advice, and details may have changed.

30 Stonewall (WCR0005)

31 Pride in Football (WCR0006)

32 Free Lions: The England Fans’ Guide to Russia, Football Supporters’ Federation, 18 May 2018

34 Foreign and Commonwealth Office (WCR0007)

37 Foreign travel advice: Russia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated its advice since, and details may have changed.

38 Simon Parkin (WCR0002)

43 Foreign travel advice: Russia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated its advice since, and details may have changed.

44 England fans told to furl the flag at World Cup, The Sunday Times, 22 April 2018

45 Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold (WCR0003)

46 HC Deb 15 May 2018, Col 124

48 Foreign travel advice: Russia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated its advice since, and details may have changed.

49 Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold (WCR0003)




Published: 8 June 2018