Safety Advice for the Russia 2018 Football World Cup
The Russia 2018 Football World Cup will attract huge numbers of fans from all over the world. The British travelling contingent are usually the largest of any nation but many have their doubts. If you are travelling here is some advice to bear in mind.
Many Russian ‘Firms’ train hard in various forms and fighting styles. While many may not deliver the controlled fighting skill that they train for, they are well organised and have openly admitted that they will target English football fans. There is strong evidence of racism in some of the more far right groups but I must be clear, this is not the approach of the majority of Russians and Russian fans.
This article aims to provide some tips for the vast majority of fans whose aim is to watch the fine game of football without the downside of violence that has come to be an expected byproduct of it. Thankfully, this violence has tapered off at matches held in the UK but behaviour by some at matches abroad continues to bring down the reputation of all English football supporters. This, coupled with the bad old days that sired the original football hooligan, has singled out English football fans as the ones to beat (pun intended!)…
Avoidance is always the supreme method of surviving potential conflict. Physical conflict is so unpredictable that if there is ever an option to be somewhere else then it should always be taken. When thinking about how to avoid trouble use the PACEI Loop: Plan, Assess, Control, Evade, Inform.
During the planning phase look for the most secure locations, these are hotels with 24 hour attendance of some kind. This means that there is some form of monitoring of who is entering the hotel and therefore it will reduce the chance of unsavoury groups following you in. Plan where you are going to celebrate (or commiserate more likely). The popular bars will, of course, be packed with supporters from both sides and therefore, as alcohol is added, these are likely to become the flash points. At the point it kicks off you will probably be wishing you weren’t wearing an England football shirt as you will become a target whether you are aggressive or not. Think ahead about how you will blend in after the game – take another item of clothing to swap or cover your supporters top with. Consider how you may be able to cover tattoos that may distinguish you as English or a fan from an English club.
The minute you step out of your secured location you should be assessing your environment. It is logical that trouble will develop during or after the game but the trouble in Marseille during the 2016 European Championships began some 5 hours before the match started and left two English fans in a coma. The approach to assessment should be seeking to identify those that may attract trouble; the extroverts that are getting angry looks from others or the individual who is making inflammatory comments to anyone they see from the other team. Pre-briefing and monitoring of those in your own group will mean that you could nip a potential problem in the bud before it has time to escalate if one of your number is getting carried away. Assess your location, always identify the exits as soon as you enter any building. If the establishment you are in has a kitchen there will be a back door, check for fire exits and alternative exits, so that if the trouble is between you and one of the exits you can still get out.
Early identification of potential trouble and monitoring of the situation will allow to you to mentally prepare for an extreme event. Much of this preparation can be conducted before you leave on your trip by visualisation and wargaming of potential scenarios to pre-think how you will manage psychologically and what physical actions you will take to protect yourself, your loved ones and your friends. As the legendary coach Sir Clive Woodward highlights in his book ‘Winning!’, Thinking Correctly Under Pressure (T-CUP) is critical to success. Thorough planning and mental preparation will pay dividends if things go wrong. The maintenance of cognitive function in acute stress situations will allow you to think your way out of most potentially dangerous situations. Physical protection is a last resort and must be focused on rapid removal of the threat followed by evasion.
Once trouble has begun it can escalate and spread fast. Be prepared to be able to leave immediately – looking for loved ones or possessions will result in you hanging around for too long. Stick together in close proximity to your kit. The best plan is to go back to your hotel bar after the match. This will be more secure and you are then close to your room for rapid extraction if necessary.
Make sure that you tell any organising group you are travelling with and other people on Social Media if violence is looking likely or has broken out so that law abiding fans can avoid the trouble. Remember avoidance is the key. This ‘Inform’ action feeds back into the planning stage to continue the cycle.
Understand that you may not get full assistance from the local police. Corruption can sound like a cliché but there is plenty of evidence to suggest it is not. Expect to be stopped, fined, given the option of paying a higher fine now… “and nothing more will be said.” Make sure you have some form of ID and proof of a valid visa. It is likely that English fans particularly in large groups will be treated fairly harshly at the slightest provocation or drunken remark. Any form of behaviour that can be seen as loutish or aggressive is liable to land you with a large fine (plus a bribe potentially) and a spell in the ‘drunk tank’. If you need to report an incident ensure that you contact the British Embassy first (details below) and they should be able to advise you on what to do. If you subsequently need to go to a Police Station allow plenty of time.
In summary, use PACEI. Plan to survive, maintain continual assessment, maintain mental and physical control, evade wherever possible and spread the word of where the problems are… and enjoy the football!
The FCO website is useful for the best advice. They advise that if you’re in Russia and you need urgent help (for example, you’ve been attacked, arrested or someone has died) call 007 495 956 7200 or 007 812 320 3200 if you’re in North-West Russia. If you’re in the UK and worried about a British national in Russia call 020 7008 1500.