19.The FCO is responsible for leading cross-Government preparations for the World Cup, which have been underway for more than two years. Since March 2017 it has chaired a cross-Government committee that includes relevant Government departments, the police, and the Football Association (FA). An Embassy team has visited all 11 match cities to build relationships with local authorities, and the FCO has published a website with guidance for fans attending the World Cup. There are plans for a “mobile embassy” of approximately 10 people to station itself in cities where England plays, to provide consular support to UK nationals for a day either side of match days. The FCO carried out a crisis response exercise in February that tested the Government’s ability to respond to a major incident at the World Cup, including against a “strained political background”. Additional staff will be on standby in the UK, in case of such an incident. Witnesses also highlighted the use of football banning orders to prevent British fans from travelling if they are known to be involved in hooliganism. DCC Roberts told us that these banning orders, which are currently in place against 1,751 individuals, were “very effective”. No British nationals were arrested for football-related disturbances at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, or at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, though there were arrests at Euro 2016.
20.The FCO has carried out its preparations in coordination with the FA, the Home Office’s UK Football Policing Unit, UK police, and supporters’ groups. DCC Roberts told us that the support the police had received from the FCO was “really strong”, while the FA said that it was “really pleased with the preparation and the co-ordination” with the FCO. Preparations have been more extensive than for previous tournaments, in part because it is being held in Russia, according to the Football Supporters’ Federation. The FA told us that the long period of preparation had put it in a good position: “No matter what twists and turns the politics may have taken in recent days, we feel as if […] we are in as good a place as we can be.”
21.The Government has launched a campaign, “Be on the Ball”, to give advice to UK nationals attending the World Cup. It includes guidance on health insurance and visas, and provides a phone number to call for consular assistance at any time of day. The FCO said that the aim of the site is to “outline all the different things that a fan travelling to the tournament would want to be aware of, the various different risks […] and the ways in which they can mitigate those risks”. However, at the time of writing the site did not feature information on risks to LGBT or BAME individuals, or information on current UK-Russia political tensions. The site directs readers to consult the FCO travel advice, which does discuss these issues. However, as journalist Richard Heller noted, even in the FCO’s travel advice the guidance for LGBT people “is presented under the unremarkable heading of ‘Local laws and customs’”, where people may not think of looking. Nor does Be on the Ball address cyber security, though the FCO’s guidance on Overseas Business Risk notes the threat of “IT attack” against computers and other electronic devices by the Russian security service (FSB), and the National Cyber Security Centre published a blog post in May with advice on cyber security for those attending the World Cup. When we asked why Be on the Ball does not address risks to minority groups, the FCO told us that the site is not intended to duplicate its travel advice, and is “specific and practical” about the match cities. However, in response to the concerns we raised with the Minister of State, the FCO has committed to adding this information to the Be on the Ball website.
22.The FCO has worked with supporters’ groups and the FA to try to ensure that Be on the Ball reaches as many football fans travelling to the World Cup as possible. The site has had almost 25,000 unique page views since it was launched in July 2017. The FCO told us that the number was not “as high as we would like” and that they “need to do more to publicise it in the run-up to the event”. The FCO also told us that some 8,800 people are currently subscribed to its travel alerts on Russia. Given that some 150,000 British nationals visit the country each year, it appears likely that many football fans have not subscribed to travel updates.
23.On 17 March, Russia expelled 23 UK diplomats, giving them a week to leave the country, and announced the closure of the UK’s consulate in St Petersburg by 1 August. Among those expelled were members of the team working on preparations for the World Cup—including the official leading these preparations—and “a number of consular and crisis staff”. Then, Russia announced on 30 March that the UK had a month to reduce the staff numbers at its missions to the same level as those of Russia in the UK. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that this would mean cutting more than 50 staff, in addition to those already expelled, though this has not been confirmed by the UK Government.
24.The Foreign Secretary told us on 21 March, in reference to the expulsions: “You can’t imagine anything more counterproductive for the UK’s ability to help fans when in Russia. I will not hide from the Committee that there is an issue and there is a discussion.” The FCO said that it had “made it clear” to the Russian local organisers that the expulsions would make preparations for the World Cup “more challenging”, but assured us that its “staffing plans post-Salisbury are robust enough to fill the gap”. The FA and police also told us that the expulsions had not fundamentally undermined their preparations for the tournament. The FA said that “we haven’t seen a drop-off of the support we have required from the FCO since they lost that individual from Moscow”. For DCC Roberts, the loss of these officials was “not optimal. However, if the question is whether we still think that, collectively, we can provide a really effective service to the UK nationals going, yes we do.”
25.The FCO has adjusted its plans for consular provision following the expulsions, though it offered us limited details on these. It said on 2 May that it would “attempt to reinforce the number of staff” in both Russia and London supporting British nationals travelling to the World Cup. The Minister of State told us on 9 May that the Department had made “reallocations within Russia, in terms of responsibilities and training”, and had “reached out” to Russian speakers with consular experience within the broader consular network, to reinforce staff numbers. The FCO is also working “very closely” with the other 30 countries that are sending teams to the World Cup. It is producing a guide, to be shared with consular teams from all the other countries, including the direct numbers of UK consular staff, to allow them to more easily contact UK officials if they find a British person in need of assistance.
26.The UK and Russian police have been developing their co-operation for the World Cup over the last two years. UK police have visited Russia on at least four occasions in this period, while Russian police have visited the UK at least twice. DCC Roberts told us that, as with previous World Cups, the UK is sending a senior police officer and a team of spotters to the tournament. They will not be uniformed—on the decision of the Russian authorities, and they will have no powers—as is always the case in similar deployments. Two British officers will be stationed in an international coordination centre in Moscow, where they will receive information from other countries’ police on other games that have taken place. DCC Roberts did not reveal to us the number of officers who will travel to Russia, but said that it was in line with the numbers sent by comparable countries.
27.If England progress beyond the group stages, they will play in other Russian host cities. However, the UK’s policing operation at the World Cup is “very much focused” on England’s three primary match cities, according to DCC Roberts. He said that “pre-visits have been undertaken for the other potential host venues. As and when that hopefully arrives, we will move the effort and focus on to those and aim to give the same level of reassurance, as far as we can, for each of those.” It was not clear to us from the evidence exactly what preparations have taken place.
28.The FCO called UK-Russia police co-operation the “main mitigation we can put in place” against the risk of hooligan violence, and a key “test” for Russian assurances in terms of fan security. The Department has told us that it continues to assess how the Salisbury incident has affected this co-operation, stating that it “continues to monitor the Russian reactions to Salisbury closely”. The Foreign Secretary said in March, following the expulsions: “There are questions now about how that co-operation will go on”. The FCO told us in May that a recent Arsenal match in Moscow provided “an opportunity for us to see, post-Salisbury, how that co-operation was continuing. It does continue, but we keep a close eye on that, and that is also part of the assessments we make about the World Cup as we approach the tournament.” DCC Roberts stated that the policing plan had not changed, and that “We still anticipate the same number of officers going as we did pre-Salisbury.”
29.UK-Russian co-operation on counter-terrorism has continued after the Salisbury incident. As the FCO explained: “it is in areas of counter-terrorism and in preparation for sports events that we continue to have close co-operation with the Russian authorities”. More broadly, the Football Supporters’ Federation said that co-operation with venues, stadium management, and local organising committees had not yet visibly been affected by the Salisbury incident, as of April 2018: “All of the people we collaborated with on the Russian side were still as positive and friendly as they had been previously. Whether it had not filtered down at that point or it just didn’t impact on their existence in the same way, I don’t know.”
30.We heard evidence that Russia’s security systems for the matches are effective. The FCO said that the Russian authorities and local organising committees had “consistently assured us that this will be the safest World Cup on record with stadiums and other venues protected by enhanced security measures during the tournament”. The FA said that its security team had been “impressed with what they have seen on the ground in Russia”, while the FSF said, of Russia’s hosting of the 2017 Confederations Cup, an international tournament:
The controls of entry into the stadiums were as tight and as rigorous as you would get when going through an airport here. […] Huge numbers were dedicated to the task. There was no question in my mind, both at the stadiums and the city centres, and the fan zones created there, that those areas were very secure.
Similarly, FIFA said in February that it had “complete trust in the security arrangements and comprehensive security concept developed by the Russian authorities”, and pointed to the experience of the Confederations Cup as evidence.
31.The FCO also pointed to the lack of major incidents at recent matches in Russia involving English teams, noting that, of 2,500 British football fans that have visited Russia since September 2016, they have “only needed to provide consular support to those who have lost their passport or overstayed their visa.” However, the World Cup will pose a more complex security challenge than the Confederations Cup, the 2014 Winter Olympics, or recent matches played by English teams in Russia. It involves many more UK nationals, as well as the protection of 11 host cities and the transport networks between them, as Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold pointed out. Only 200 UK nationals attended April’s Arsenal match in Moscow, for example.
32.Witnesses suggested to us that the Russian security forces were likely to take a “paramilitary” approach to security at the World Cup, using overwhelming numbers to prevent disorder. The Football Supporters’ Federation described the use of “enormous numbers of military personnel” at a Russia-England game in Moscow in 2007, which was able to outweigh the “hostile atmosphere” and “political tensions” between the two countries at that time: “there was no real danger of anything getting out of control, just by weight of numbers alone”.
33.The FCO has said that its primary objective for the World Cup is the “safety and security of British people visiting Russia”. However, fan safety at the tournament is the responsibility of the Russian government. As a result, the FCO is reliant on its assessment of the Russian government’s ability and commitment to keep fans safe. The Foreign Secretary told the House in May, “it is up to the Russians, and on their honour, to guarantee the safety” of visiting fans.
34.The FCO and other witnesses told us that they were satisfied by the Russian government’s ability to keep fans safe. They also said they were satisfied by evidence of the Russian government’s commitment to this. According to the FCO, the UK and Russia “clearly share exactly the same objective of safety and security” for the tournament. DCC Roberts stated that:
I have every confidence that, should they deploy their security apparatus to prevent disorder, they are perfectly well able to do that. I guess the question is whether the desire is there. Everything we have seen and been told and that has been fed back from the Foreign Office is that there is a desire to do that.
35.The Russian authorities have also attempted to reassure UK football fans directly. The national tourist office has opened an information centre in London, whose aim is to “dispel any doubts or uncertainties British people may have about travelling to the event, and help them decide to go to Russia”.
36.We recognise that there is a limit to how openly the FCO and others involved in preparations can speak before the tournament begins, due to their need to maintain good relations with the Russian authorities. Preserving these relationships is itself an important part of managing the risks. As DCC Roberts explained to us: “We have to maintain a relationship with the Russian authorities in order for us to try to work with them, to influence and advise on their behaviours so that they treat our visiting guests in the best possible way”. We also recognise that exaggerated media reports on this issue may themselves pose a risk to fans, by undermining UK-Russian security co-operation. Speaking about Euro 2012, which was hosted in Poland and Ukraine, DCC Roberts said: “scare stories went round about racism and violence, and I spent the first week there trying to reassure the Polish police on the basis of UK media reports and negating false stories so that we could have the relationship with the Poles.”
37.We note the evidence of the preparations for the World Cup that the FCO has been making over the last two years, and the testimony that UK-Russian co-operation on this point has been continuing post-Salisbury. We recognise the work of officials and others involved in these preparations, particularly those diplomatic staff who have remained in Russia following the expulsions and their colleagues who had to leave as a result of those expulsions. We believe it was wrong for the Russian government to expel British diplomats, particularly the officials leading on preparations and the safety of fans for the World Cup, and remain concerned that this will have hindered preparations and could put the safety of British fans at risk.
38.We have been told that there will be rigorous security measures and consular support in place in cities where England plays, on match days, particularly within stadiums and official fan zones, and we look forward to seeing this happen. We are, however, concerned about the safety of UK fans outside these times and places, particularly those travelling to matches in which England is not participating. In addition, while reasonably extensive preparations have been made for the first three England matches, we are concerned that preparations for any subsequent matches will be more rushed. The FCO should do more to make fans aware of the distinction between arrangements that will be in place on match and non-match days, and in England and non-England match cities.
39.We welcome declarations by the FCO and other witnesses that they have received adequate reassurances on Russia’s commitment to keep fans safe. However, in our view these reassurances are undermined by:
40.The FCO told us that it would advise UK nationals not to attend the World Cup if it could not guarantee their safety. Given the volatile state of UK-Russia relations, and the fact that the FCO’s assessment of Russian reactions to Salisbury is ongoing, it is particularly important that the Government can communicate with UK fans during the tournament. In the context of 150,000 UK citizens travelling to Russia annually, the fact that only 8,800 people are subscribed to the FCO’s travel advice seems worryingly low, and suggests that many fans intending to go to the World Cup do not receive the alerts.
41.Given the volatility of the relationship and the nature of the Russian state, it is essential that, if the security situation deteriorates, the Government is prepared to act fast and decisively to advise fans against travel to the World Cup or to advise those in country to avoid a location, stay in their hotels, or even leave the country should the situation demand it. Although there is now little time to do so, the FCO should, as a matter of urgency, take additional steps to encourage UK fans to sign up for its travel alerts, so that it can keep as many fans as possible informed of any developments while they are in Russia. It should learn from this experience to ensure more people are subscribed to its travel alerts before future similar events.
42.It is important that LGBT, BAME and other minority groups have all the necessary information to make an informed decision on whether to attend the World Cup, how to stay safe while there, and what steps to take if they face intimidation or violence. Though the Government recognises the issue, we are concerned that their approach in this area has been overly complacent. While we welcome the FCO’s commitment, following our suggestions, to update the Be on the Ball website with warnings about the risks to LGBT and BAME individuals, not to have taken this step earlier means that the FCO has missed a trick.
43.We recognise that the FCO is limited in what it can reveal publicly about its concerns, and about the levels of consular staffing, before the World Cup has concluded. Given these restrictions, the FCO should report back to us after the tournament has concluded. This report should cover its consular operations, police co-operation, and any challenges the FCO faced, as well as an assessment of how far Russia’s assurances were fulfilled in practice. It should also set out what it has learned from the tournament, to help inform preparations for future events. We ask the FCO to provide us with this information by the end of September.
50 ; Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
51 , 26 March 2018; Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
52 , Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 23 June 2017. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated this page, and details may have changed.
53 ; , 26 March 2018
54 ; Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
55 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
56 ; Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
58 , Reuters, 29 January 2018
63 , Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 23 June 2017. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated this page, and details may have changed.
65 Richard Heller ()
66 , Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As of 21 May 2018
67 , National Cyber Security Centre, 15 May 2018
69 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
71 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
73 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
74 , BBC, 17 March 2018
75 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
77 Oral Evidence from the Foreign Secretary 21 March 2018, , Q223
78 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
79 , The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 30 March 2018
80 , Reuters, 31 March 2018
81 Oral Evidence from the Foreign Secretary 21 March 2018, , Q223
82 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
85 [on Russia: Football], 2 May 2018
90 , Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 23 June 2017. As of 3 May 2018. Note: the FCO has updated this page, and details may have changed.
98 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
99 Oral Evidence from the Foreign Secretary 21 March 2018, , Q206
104 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
106 The Confederations Cup is an international men’s football tournament held every four years, usually in the country hosting the next FIFA World Cup.
108 , Reuters, 23 February 2018
109 Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
110 Dr Andrew Foxall and Dr Richard Arnold ()
114 , 26 March 2018
115 HC Deb 15 May 2018,
118 , Visit Russia, 1 December 2017
Published: 8 June 2018