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Page last updated at 15:04 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 16:04 UK

Moscow moves closer to visa plan

By Chris Whyatt

Russian police await England fans in the Luzhniki Stadium
England played Russia in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium in 2007

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

Officials from Chelsea and Manchester United, along with the Home Office and the police, met with their Russian counterparts on Friday.

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

"We hope for further alleviation," said match coordinator Alexei Sorokin.

Is it estimated that 50,000 fans will travel to Russia to watch Chelsea against Manchester United on 21 May - presenting a number of logistical challenges for Russian organisers.

Since the all-English final became a certainty on Tuesday evening, Uefa have been working with Russian officials to find a simpler solution than the orthodox route of applying for visas through the Russian Embassy in London.

Both clubs have been given 21,000 tickets each for the Luzhniki Stadium, where the capacity is being set at 69,500 for the final.

We reassure all the fans intending to support their teams in Moscow that despite an extremely tight time-frame their visa applications will be duly processed

Russian Embassy statement

"We are finalising an express way to get visas," Uefa spokesman William Gaillard told BBC Sport on Wednesday.

"We've had extreme goodwill from the Russian government to make it easy for fans. It will be a major breakthrough."

Russia has been experiencing an extended holiday period at the start of May and its Embassy and Uefa are expected to make an official announcement with full details when the country returns to work.

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.

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.

"The actual specifics and fine details will be addressed in the next day or so and then we will communicate with the fans.

Russian ambassador Yuri Fedotov on Champions League

"Everyone in Uefa from (president) Michel Platini to the local organising committee recognise in order for for it to be a showcase, you have to ease entry into the country while not totally doing away with what the Russian authorities require."

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

There were unconfirmed reports that supporters may not need a visa if they possess a valid match ticket and passport - though legally that would be almost impossible to push through.

In usual circumstances, visitors to Russia need an official invitation to visit the country - business, personal, or otherwise.

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.

Each club has its own policy for allocating the 21,000 tickets they will receive, largely based on loyalty.

Traditionally, huge numbers of supporters of British clubs travel to destinations around Europe to follow their team - with or without a ticket.

606: DEBATE

At present fans can apply for a visa from the Russian National Tourist Board in London (or via its website), which is processing visas exclusively on behalf of the Russian Embassy for the Champions League final.

In a statement released earlier in the week, the Russian Embassy acknowledged the "extremely tight" time-frame but promised additional staff to cope with the heavy demand and assured fans their visas will be duly processed.

Already accommodation in the Russian capital is scarce, if not completely booked up, while tickets for flights to Moscow are virtually full - or fetching massively inflated sums of money.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Embassy said: "We would encourage supporters not to travel if they do not have a ticket or accommodation beforehand."

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.

Moscow and London are locked in a row over the 2006 murder of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, which has involved diplomatic expulsions and a tightening of procedures for issuing visas by both countries.

Consequently, fans of Zenit St Petersburg, who have reached the Uefa Cup final in Manchester, had been told their British visa applications would include a biometric test and possible interview with consulate officials.

However, British authorities are now reportedly set to adopt streamlined visa applications procedures for Russian fans of Zenit.

Meanwhile, British sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe says fans - and players - will need to be on their best behaviour in Moscow otherwise England's bid for the 2018 World Cup could be undermined.

"They have to make sure that we have a showcase final which may help us in terms of our World Cup bid," he said.

"When you think what the global audience will be for the Champions League final, their every move will be watched."

A visa information hotline has been set up on the following telephone number: 0208 242 4104.




see also
Why is Moscow so expensive?
02 May 08 |  Magazine
Final tickets on sale for 5,000
01 May 08 |  Business
Ferguson heaps praise on Scholes
30 Apr 08 |  Man Utd
Chelsea 3-2 Liverpool (4-3)
30 Apr 08 |  Europe
Man Utd 1-0 Barcelona (agg 1-0)
29 Apr 08 |  Europe


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