Football and Visas: An Update

Following on from the post immediately below this one, the BBC has a report on the status of the visa issue for British fans wanting to go to the Champions League final in Moscow on May 21st.

Champions League final organisers are moving closer to finalising a solution for English supporters to get “express” Russian visas after meeting in Moscow.

Moving closer to finalising a solution?  They’d better get a move on.  What amuses me is how the Russians have been caught by surprise by all this.  An English team was guaranteed a place in the final following the quarter final results on 9th April, and with Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea all going into the quarter finals with only Fenerbahce as the potential for an upset, it’s been highly likely that an English team will appear in Moscow since the quarter final draw was made on 14th March.  They’ve had six weeks to prepare for this, and only now, less than three weeks before kick-off, are they “moving close to finalising a solution”.  True, the Russians will now have to deal with 50,000 applications rather than the 25,000 they could have anticipated back then, but I think they’d still struggle had only one English team gotten through. 

It has been agreed in principle that match tickets can replace the official invitation usually needed for a visa.

If this actually happens, this will speed things up considerably as obtaining a letter of invitation normally takes at least a week (not to mention the £100 charge plus courier fees).  But I’m not sure I’d be comfortable putting my ticket – which are now valued on the internet at £5,000 each – into the Russian embassy, paper clipped to the back of my visa application form.

Russia is currently in the middle of a three-day public holiday. Its Embassy and Uefa could make an announcement with full details on Sunday 4 May.

That’s right: and we also have another public holiday from 8th to 11th May, which is another four days lost.

Manchester United has said that supporters planning to travel will find it easier than normal to get a visa, suggesting those on charter flights approved by the club would be eligible for special arrangements. 

I’ll believe this when I see it.

And United chief executive David Gill was part of the English delegation which met with Russian officials and Uefa in Moscow on Thursday.

“The visa issue has been there for a while,” he told MUTV before embarking on the trip. “If you are on an organised trip, your ticket will be your visa.  

Not a chance.  The ticket might serve as a letter of invitation, but try presenting your ticket to the Russian immigration official at Domodedovo Airport, and you’ll be going nowhere.

Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzkhov, has promised that the Russian Embassy and relevant authorities will make it easier for fans to get visas.

But, as agreed in principle, a match ticket could act as an official invitation – though supporters entering the country will still need to purchase a visa, currently priced at £95.

What remains, crucially, is to finalise how these visas are issued.  

Despite having experienced Russian bureaucratic incompetence for the past four years, I am still amazed they are only now trying to deal with this.

At present fans can apply for a visa through the Russian National Tourist Board in London, which is processing visas exclusively on behalf of the Russian Embassy for the Champions League final.  

This is also typically Russian: whenever things take ages or are in short supply, the reason behind it is usually because someone or some department enjoys a monopoly position at a crucial point in the decision making process.  Usually this is a state department, and is often a nice source of income for the people running it.

Though Russia insists it will ensure fans travelling to the Moscow finals get visas with minimal fuss, it has said the process would have been easier if diplomatic ties with Britain were better.

I like that: it’s not lack of planning or an archaic visa system which is the problem, it is the British government.

Looking at the visa problems, coupled with the severe shortage of hotels in Moscow and the extortionate price of taxis, I’m predicting an utter shambles.

One interesting development running in parallel to this is that Zenit St. Petersburg thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0 on Thursday, setting up a final with Glasgow Rangers on 14th May – in Manchester!  Perhaps if the issue of visas for English fans isn’t settled to the satisfaction of the FA, Zenit fans could find themselves being turned down for visas at the British consulate in St. Petersburg.


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