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The men’s 2018 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup will be held in Russia between 14 June and 15 July. The World Cup is an international soccer (football) tournament held every four years among the national teams of member countries of FIFA. The matches will take place in 11 Russian cities: Moscow, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi, and Yekaterinburg. The Russian government is expecting at least 1.5 million foreigners to visit the country for the World Cup.
Given the magnitude of the event, the World Cup naturally presents a number of security challenges to Russian authorities and to the many fans, media personnel, teams, and others who will travel to the country. The Russian government will be taking a number of additional security measures for the event. These measures include additional restrictions around infrastructure facilities, waterways, and coastlines in cities hosting a match, and restrictions of access to controlled areas in and around World Cup facilities, including the hotels where the players will be staying during the tournament.
Travelers can expect road closures in the host cities and increased security measures during public events not connected to the World Cup, which have yet to be specified by the Russian government. In addition, Russian security officials will be utilizing thousands of CCTV cameras with facial recognition technology to identify potential attackers, and will be deploying anti-drone and other military equipment to provide enhanced security measures.
Some top security concerns for the World Cup include terrorism, hooliganism, threats to LGBT travelers, and cyber and information security concerns.
Like for most major events, there is an ongoing threat of terrorism, particularly “lone wolf” attacks inspired by the Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups. IS and other terrorist organizations have carried out attacks on Russian soil in the recent past. The threat has been exacerbated by Russia's military involvement in Syria, as well as separatist militancy in the disputed Northern Caucasus region.
IS has been issuing threats specific to the 2018 World Cup since late 2017. Recently, the group has been encouraging would-be attackers to strike during the tournament and has been spreading propaganda material on its social media channels and via the encrypted messaging platform. Most prominently, an IS image was released on 20 April by the group’s propaganda wing stating, “Putin: You disbeliever. You will pay the price for killing Muslims.” However, IS has distributed similar propaganda threatening attacks ahead of other major events in recent years that failed to actually result in attacks.
Russian authorities have taken steps to prevent hooliganism at the World Cup, but the threat remains. In June 2016 at the European Championships in Marseille, France, Russian hooligans violently attacked English fans in the Old Port, resulting in over 30 people injured and many others arrested. The hooligans were reportedly well-organized and appeared to have been trained. In an effort to curb the potential for similar violence at the World Cup, approximately 1,750 people have been banned from attending soccer matches, including 91 people connected to the Marseille incident. Russian authorities generally know the identities of the hooligans, and have taken steps to ensure that the violence witnessed in 2016 in Marseille does not disrupt the World Cup events. Despite these efforts, spontaneous hooligan-related violence remains possible.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Russia may face discrimination and harassment. Although same-sex relations are not illegal in Russia, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, local laws ban “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors, for which foreigners found in violation can be punished with fines, up to 15 days in jail, and deportation. The vague language of this law effectively makes any action or statement that appears to promote LGBT issues illegal, which could extend to posts on social media.
The number of reported homophobic incidents has reportedly increased since the passage of the propaganda law in 2013. Travelers may be targeted for public expressions of homosexuality, and harassment towards LGBT people can range from street harassment to violent assault. Although Moscow and St. Petersburg have thriving gay communities, people leaving or in the vicinity of LGBT clubs and bars may be targeted for homophobic attacks or police harassment. Other types of discrimination—including racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia— may intersect with local homophobic and transphobic attitudes to increase the likelihood or severity of harassment experienced by LGBT travelers.
Further, travelers should be wary of entrapment campaigns, as LGBT individuals—particularly gay men—have been lured on dating apps under false pretenses and then attacked. In several instances, neo-Nazi groups have entrapped gay men before torturing and/or murdering them. Russian law enforcement is generally ineffective at prosecuting these crimes, and members of anti-LGBT vigilante groups often operate with impunity.
Cyber and information security
Surveillance of telephone and electronic communication is prevalent in Russia, and all travelers should operate under the assumption that all their communications are being monitored while they are in the country. Do not discuss private or sensitive matters, including anything political in nature, on any mode of communication while in country. Further, cybercrime is prevalent in the country, and criminals may seek to gain access to sensitive information, particularly banking and other personal information (like passwords), via electronic devices.
Travelers should take appropriate measures to minimize exposure to surveillance and to reduce the possibility that private or sensitive information is exposed:
- To the greatest extent possible, maintain positive control over all electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) by keeping them with you at all times.
- Ensure the Bluetooth and wireless functions on all devices are turned off when not in use. Do not connect to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks, including at airports, train stations, and other public areas. If wireless connectivity is essential, utilize a virtual private network (VPN) and do not conduct sensitive business, such as online banking.
- Limit or avoid social media activity while in country, which can reveal personal information, location, and other sensitive information.
- Alert friends and family of your trip before you leave and make sure they don’t send you any sensitive or private information while you’re traveling.
- Never plug an unknown USB flash drive into your computer or other device.
- Do not charge a phone or other device with a USB unless it is connected directly to an electric outlet. Consider an external battery charger so you do not have to connect your device to outlets.
- GSM is the most common mobile system in Russia. Consider purchasing a GSM compatible phone that is separate from your daily device for cyber security purposes.
- Consider a wallet that blocks would-be criminals from wirelessly obtaining credit card information via radio frequency identification (RFID).
- Healthcare in Russia can be an issue. Pack a sufficient medical kit to treat minor illness and injuries.
- Marked and metered taxis are the recommended method of transportation from airport to lodging. Mobile ride-share programs or reputable hotel arranged transportation are also suitable, but be sure to utilize vetted resources.
- It is suggested to obtain lodging from the FIFA Recommended Accommodation list, which can be found on the FIFA website.
- Global Rescue recommends drawing cash from ATMs at reputable hotels or shopping centers. ATMs elsewhere should not be trusted.
- FAN ID, which is required for entry to events, along with the FIFA website, can help arrange free travel. It is recommended to use this option as it will be closely monitored and likely to have enhanced security.
- The hooligan threat has been initially addressed by the Russian government, but unrest may still occur. Avoid if possible. If you must move through an area of disturbance stay to the outside or step inside a safe building and wait for the situation to deescalate.
Global Rescue members have access to the My Global Rescue mobile app, which is a direct link to our operations centers in case of emergency and provides real-time reports on health and security issues in 215 countries and principalities worldwide.
Questions? Contact Global Rescue at 617-459-4200 or email@example.com.
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