Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 22 News List

Russia mulls simplifying visa rules for final

AP , MOSCOW

Russia is considering how to simplify visa rules for more than 40,000 English soccer fans who hope to travel to Moscow for the Champions League final.

The Foreign Ministry has already decided to cut some red tape and all that remains is to decide what documents the supporters need to submit to get the tourist visas.

“In principle, the decision to simplify the process is there. How this will be done is another question,” said a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official said fans may have to wait until next week to find out because yesterday and today are public holidays in Russia.

An all-English final on May 21 was guaranteed after Manchester United beat FC Barcelona 1-0 in the second-leg of the semi-finals after a goalless draw in Spain.

UEFA said on Wednesday that one rule set to be relaxed is a requirement that all visitors to Russia provide details of a hotel room booking.

“We have urged the Russian authorities to come up with a simplified visa procedure,” UEFA spokesman William Gaillard said in Switzerland. “This has been done by contacts between our president [Michel Platini] and the top level of the Russian government hierarchy. We have encountered a lot of goodwill on the Russian side. They are trying to put together a package that is attractive to supporters.”

Russian officials in London sought to calm any lingering nerves.

“We would like to assure all fans wishing to support their club in Moscow that, despite the extremely tight time frame, all visa applications will be considered promptly,” the Russian embassy in London said in a statement on Wednesday.

Anton Borysenko, a spokesman for the Russian National Tourist Office — which the Russian embassy in London has charged with dealing with visas for the supporters — said: “We are 100 percent sure that all fans will get their visas.”

The office will process visas for the finalists’ official supporters clubs and has already issued tourist visas to individual fans, Borysenko said.

Supporters of the two finalists will get 47,000 tickets to the Luznhiki Stadium match, presenting a nightmare of logistics for visas, accommodation and security.

The visa issue has not been helped by frosty relations between London and Moscow.

“We are convinced that football lovers from both countries would have only benefited had the United Kingdom government not decided in July 2007 to suspend negotiations with Russia on a bilateral agreement easing visa regulations and toughen the approach toward Russian citizens applying for British visas,” the embassy said. “Many problems could have been avoided if Russia and the United Kingdom had an agreement similar to that existing between our country and the European Union.”

Many Manchester United fans are worried about the stringent visa requirements.

Geoff Pearson, who runs an MBA course in soccer at Liverpool University, fears that sending off his passport to the Russian authorities would prevent him from lecturing abroad before the final.

“It could be disastrous for me,” said Pearson, who will take four different airlines to reach Moscow. “This will be the most problematic final for fans because of the visa situation and Moscow being incredibly expensive to get to and to get accommodation there.”

Some fans are not going to Moscow because of the hassles.

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