Thousands of English football fans face potential travel nightmare getting to Moscow for the Champions League final, reports said Thursday.
Getting Russian visas will likely be complicated for the May 21 match between English Premier League leaders Manchester United and Chelsea, while flights are already booked up and accommodation in the Russian capital risks being prohibitively expensive.
Even the fact that Chelsea is owned by Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich will not necessarily ease the situation for the club’s fans.
Chelsea defeated Liverpool 3-2 on Wednesday to secure a final berth for the first time.
UEFA officials voiced confidence Thursday that any travel difficulties for an estimated 40,000 English fans planning to travel to Moscow can be overcome in the three weeks before the game.
“We have no specific worries or problems,” UEFA director of communications William Gaillard told Sky Sports television.
“I think both clubs have developed a tradition of travelling abroad and both clubs are very well organised.”
But hopes that visa requirements could be suspended were scotched this week when the Russian foreign ministry contradicted Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, who had said fans could attend the match without obtaining Russian entry visas.
And The Guardian newspaper reported that diplomatic tensions between London and Moscow — plunged into the deep freeze by the killing of Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006 — risked complicating the visa arrangements.
“The vast majority of fans will be outraged. This ought to be a sporting occasion and nothing to do with politics,” Jon Keen of the Football Supporters’ Federation told the daily, adding that UEFA should relocate the final to Britain unless visa problems were resolved soon.
The paper also said fans were struggling to find flights and hotels for the game, with flights to Moscow costing more than 1,500 pounds (3,000 dollars, 2,000 euros).
The Times newspaper meanwhile said that English fans would be forced to pay an extra visa charge after the Russian embassy in London outsourced the job of meeting the expected surge in applications.
It said the Britain-based Russian National Tourist Office would impose an extra 20 pound charge on top of the usual 45 pound fee for a visa for the expected 40,000 applicants.
The Russian foreign ministry said it would clarify visa arrangements after Wednesday’s Chelsea-Liverpool match, although it insisted its London embassy “will examine all the visa bids from the supporters in proper time.”
“We would also like to stress that our visa procedures are much easier than the demands of the British embassy for the Russian fans, who want to support their squads in Britain,” it said in a statement.
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