Visitors attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ soccer tournament, which is slated to take place in Russia June 14-July 15, will face latent threats from criminal violence related to sports fan hooliganism and Islamist-inspired terrorism, but robust security measures at event venues, transportation hubs, and other strategic assets are likely to prevent a major incident. A strong security force presence will also likely deter petty criminals, as well as large demonstrations by opposition, civil rights, and labor activist groups. The matches are slated to take place at 12 stadiums in 11 cities nationwide. FIFA has so far sold more than 1.5 million tickets globally, and Russian officials estimate that an additional 500,000 tourists will visit during the FIFA World Cup™. The high numbers of tourists and spectators are expected to lead to an increased threat from petty crime, politically motivated harassment, and terrorism; however, security-related disruptions are likely to be the key impact on foreign visitors up to and during the tournament.
- Russian security forces have previously demonstrated their ability to mitigate threats to large-scale sporting events and safeguard attendees. Security measures, including heavy surveillance, will be extremely robust throughout the tournament.
- Petty crime around the stadiums, city centers, transportation hubs, and on public transport will be the most significant threat to foreign travelers. Low-level harassment of foreigners may also occur.
- Isolated violence relating to organized hooligan groups, both Russian and some from outside Russia, are possible near match venues, and in other urban centers throughout the tournament.
Security Force Preparations and Capabilities
Security forces, in coordination with private security contractors, will implement robust security measures to ensure spectator safety during the FIFA World Cup™. Organizers will coordinate with local law enforcement and international counterparts. Thousands of personnel from a variety of agencies are expected to deploy to stadiums, FIFA event venues, and city centers. Security personnel will search stadiums ahead of events, as well as all people and vehicles entering the inner and outer security perimeters around the stadiums. Authorities will look for weapons, alcohol, and drugs, as well as potentially inflammatory or racist banners.
Similar to security preparations ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, authorities are installing additional CCTV in commercial areas and metal detectors at hotel entrances in host cities. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and private security agencies are carrying out thorough security audits at international hotels.
National intelligence, border, and customs services are also taking measures to prevent known or potential criminals, hooligans, and terrorists from entering the country or accessing FIFA World Cup™ venues. In the months leading up to the tournament, reports of arrests following to police and counterterrorism raids are likely to increase. Security measures, such as no-fly zones and increased checks at maritime borders, could lead to minor transport disruptions or congestion at border checkpoints and transport hubs.
Soccer Hooliganism and Targeted Violence
Organized and spontaneous violence associated with soccer hooliganism, either within or outside stadium venues, will be a considerable threat. Authorities will likely prevent large-scale disturbances around official FIFA venues and in cities hosting matches, though the possibility of isolated violence in urban centers around the country cannot be ruled out. Most such incidents are spontaneous and often involve verbal harassment that has escalated into clashes between rival supporters. Such incidents are more likely when participants are under the influence of alcohol. Generally, hooliganism occurs immediately before or after a match; incidents are unlikely to be limited to the immediate location of the stadium, and will be possible in and near spectator areas in other cities.
Organized hooligan gangs (also known as "firms") attached to national teams are likely to seek to target rival fans. Some gangs ostentatiously travel in groups, chanting and wearing conspicuous attire; others are deliberately less conspicuous to avoid detection by the police. Specific groups such as the "Russian Ultras" and hooligan firms associated with "Spartak Moscow," embrace nationalism and far-right, racist ideology. Such gangs could attempt to instigate brawls, which have the potential to result in serious injuries and cause transport disruptions in city centers and around match venues areas, as seen during the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament when Russian gangs attacked England fans in Marseille. Russian firms have threatened supporters of England's national team and have reportedly claimed to have allied with groups from other countries, such as the Argentinian Barras Bravas, to target fans from England. In addition, Polish and Russian football fans have routinely engaged in brawls surrounding sports tournaments in Russia or elsewhere in Europe.
In collaboration with other governments, Russian authorities have blacklisted hooligan leaders and thousands of gang members from attending the tournament. The FSB has also raided the homes of known domestic hooligans who have previously incited violence. Russian hooligan groups currently appear to lack leadership, and are unlikely to be capable of overwhelming the security forces to stage a large-scale attack on rival supporters. Any targeted violence that does occur will likely take place away from official FIFA venues, such as near entertainment or commercial districts in host cities, or near transportation points such as stations or parking lots
Targeted harassment of Western nationals is possible in the context of recent diplomatic tensions between the Russian, UK, and US governments. Racial slurs, confrontational attire, and sometimes violence has targeted those of African or Asian descent. Anti-LGBTQ harassment is systematic in Russia, though is more prevalent outside large metropolitan areas. Nationalist activists could stage rallies against certain teams or nationalities represented in the competition. Participants at similar demonstrations during the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia shouted racially abusive statements, though there were no major incidents of violence.
Major incidents are unlikely during the FIFA World Cup™ given the strong capabilities of Russian security forces to prevent organized terrorist attacks and criminal violence. Russian forces have a proven capability at effective security preparations and have prevented major incidents at previous sports competitions attracting teams and spectators worldwide, such as the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2017 Confederations Cup. Petty crime and low-level harassment are the most common issues for foreign travelers. However, sporadic incidents of violence or security disturbances cannot be ruled out. Russian security personnel remain vigilant for a possible, low-level terrorist incident. Increased security could also result in frequent raids, operations, or drills in city centers or nearby FIFA event venues in the weeks leading up to the start of the games. Security operations could lead to localized transport and short-term business disruptions near transport hubs or city centers.
General precautions and suggested preparations include the following:
- Submit all necessary visa applications as early as possible.
- Photocopy the contents of your wallet, including credit cards, insurance information, travel documents, etc. Email this information to yourself.
- Identify a friend or family member as a support person for your trip. Provide that individual with your itinerary and copies of your passport and visas. Save electronic copies of these documents that can reside on your phone, not in cloud storage or a computing service.
- Program into your phone contact information for your host, members of your party, nearest diplomatic mission, and other trusted local contacts. Print and carry a paper copy.
- Have your transportation contact email you a picture of your driver, the vehicle to be used, and the license plate. Select hotels that have been vetted by a reputable travel security company.
- When booking hotels, request a room near the stairs or fire exit away from the street or entrance; ideally, your room should be between the second and seventh floor.
- If available, enroll in diplomatic mission travel security programs (e.g., STEP Program). At a minimum, register your trip with your diplomatic mission and include your contact information and itinerary.
- Print, carry, and learn to read maps of the cities/areas you will visit. Plan your routes.
- Visit a travel medicine provider at least eight weeks in advance of planned travel to obtain any necessary vaccinations.