MOSCOW (AP) Russia’s World Cup chief says international security cooperation for the tournament won’t be disrupted by the tense relations with other countries following the poisoning of a former spy.
More than two dozen Western allies have expelled over 150 Russian diplomats amid the fallout from the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England last month.
“So far we’ve seen no impact,” Alexei Sorokin, the CEO of Russia’s World Cup organizing committee, told The Associated Press. “There will be law enforcement cooperation on an international level … it’s not affected by any changes in the political situation. It’s a very specific set of actions and measures.”
Russian and foreign security forces are expected to exchange information on possible threats to the tournament ranging from terrorism to hooligans. That includes “a separate headquarters where police forces from different countries will cooperate on the same premises” to track potential troublemakers, Sorokin said.
Countries including Britain and Australia have advised their citizens to be cautious when visiting Russia due to the political tensions, but Sorokin said fans had nothing to worry about. “I see no particular logical reasons for these warnings,” he said. “This is Moscow, St. Petersburg, other cities, they are no safer, no (more) dangerous than other major European cities.”
World Cup organizers do not believe the political tensions have affected ticket sales, he added.
“This is a clear indication that there is interest and the political situation … has little or no effect on that,” he said.
Monkey chants aimed at black players during last week’s friendly between Russia and France have attracted extra attention to the problem of racism in Russian football.
Sorokin rejected criticism that Russian stewards should have done more to stop the chants during the game.
“I think stewards are receiving enough training. There are multiple hours of training and appropriate examinations,” he said. “They are of course aware of the possibility of such a situation. However, if such incidents happen very quickly and they don’t have time to respond, then it’s hard to really prosecute that on the spot.”
Sorokin suggested the chants at the game in St. Petersburg were “a provocation” and the work of individual troublemakers.
“It’s not depicting the mood of the society,” he added.
Sorokin pointed to the Russian Premier League, which has not seen any clubs charged with racism during its games this season. However, Zenit St. Petersburg has faced two UEFA charges from Europa League games, one regarding chants mocking a black Leipzig player, and one involving a banner honoring convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic.