‘What apprehension? We are ready for whatever’ – Moscow police chief on World Cup
Russia’s capital will play a unique role during football’s showpiece event in that it will be the only one of 11 host cities to have two host venues - Spartak Stadium and Luzhniki - meaning it will receive a higher concentration of fans during the tournament.
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow’s newly-renovated 81,000 capacity sporting arena which reopened in September, will host the tournament’s opening game on June 14 and final, for which there has been a combined 222,000 ticket applications so far.
Speaking at a press conference at Luzhniki, Zakharov told the assembled world media there is no question as to the Moscow police force’s preparation for the influx of fans.
“It doesn't really matter to us how many fans will come. As many as come, we are ready to ensure their security during the World Cup,” Zakharov said.
Some sections of the British media have expressed concern for fans making the trip to Russia, with some even resorting to smear campaigns highlighting harsh violence and bleak conditions.
Zakharov was keen to dispel these fears, citing the arrival of Liverpool and Manchester United in their recent Champions League group games in Moscow.
“It is definitely safe for British fans to come here,” he said. “Those fans who arrived in Moscow last week for the Champions League matches, we deployed police to meet them, implemented all the measures according to the information we had. Everything will be secure. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Liverpool played reigning Russian champions Spartak Moscow at Otkrytie Arena - which will be renamed Spartak Stadium for use at the World Cup - on Tuesday September 26.
Traveling fans were greeted with ‘Gentlefan Warm Welcome’ commemorative T-shirts in the style of their club’s jersey, and with the dates of previous meetings between the two sides printed on the back.
One day later, Manchester United arrived to take on CSKA Moscow at VEB Arena, where away supporters were greeted by Russia 2018 ambassador Viktoria Lopyreva, who helped hand out Gentlefan raincoats.
Lopyreva, who was also present at the press conference, was born and raised in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, and did the same when United visited her hometown last season to play Rostov in the Europa League.
“Because it was very cold in Rostov, we gave blankets to all supporters of Manchester United and somehow I believe that this very small but very warm gesture may have warmed up relations between the Russian and English fans,” she explained.
Relations between English and Russian fans haven’t always been so warm. Trouble between the two sets of fans dogged the Euro 2016 tournament in France, with violent clashes in Marseille making world news.
Since then, serious questions have been posed over safety measures in Russia, given the level of violence a portion of their ultras used in Marseille. Zakharov remained coy over his expectations of fan relations at Russia 2018, but dismissed Moscow police are apprehensive of a repeat of the scenes in France.
“What do you mean by apprehension? We are ready for whatever may happen, but English fans are just like Russian fans. They are welcome to come here. Personally, I'm certain that everything will be fine,” he said.
“In central Moscow, which is the area where most fans will be, we have a special division with the Moscow police department. It's called tourism police. Our police officers who work for this division, they speak foreign languages, so they will be explain to visiting fans what are the rules for proper behavior here.
“During the World Cup we will have a few ‘fan fest’ areas – areas that are specifically designated for people to come together, drink some beer, enjoy football together. Generally I don't expect any problems. We have enough police officers to deploy. I don't expect any difficulties.
“It's not like we're going to put someone on a plane home for just for drinking a little bit too much. In any case, whatever they do and however we respond will always be polite and very respectful in handling them.
“According to Russian law, it's OK to drink as long as you don't disturb public order. If there are any violations of public order, then the police will have to respond.”
Policing the tournament will be made easier by the Fan ID system which allows authorities to identify those present at matches, and which acts as visas for foreign match-goers, for whom they are an obligatory requirement.
Those simply wishing to soak up the matchday atmosphere in the city will not be obliged to apply for FAN ID, and will be welcomed with famous Russian hospitality – with the added bonus safe and competent security.
“Russia is a hospitable country, so if any fans want just to come – even if they don't have tickets for a specific game – of course they are welcome to come and they will be very secure,” Zakharov said.