Visas to Be Simplified For British Soccer Fans

Authorities will take unprecedented measures to simplify visa procedures for English soccer fans coming to the Champions League final in Moscow, match coordinator Alexei Sorokin said.

With at least 50,000 fans planning to travel to Moscow, the May 21 game between English clubs Chelsea and Manchester United presents substantial security and logistical challenges.

"Thanks to a decision by the Foreign Ministry, the organizing committee has arranged to invite fans on the basis of a valid ticket and a passport," Sorokin told a news conference Friday. "And as soon as it is approved by the competent authority, we are expecting a further simplification of the visa process."

With less than three weeks to go, concerns have been high that there would not be enough time for fans to make their way through Russia's notoriously laborious visa application procedures.

Talks on preparations, which include Manchester United chief executive David Gill and Chelsea chief operating officer Ron Gourlay, continued over the weekend. Chelsea and United have both been allocated 21,000 tickets for the match at Luzhniki stadium.

The Foreign Ministry will send a team of consular officials to Britain to issue visas for soccer fans and make sure all ticket holders get to the match, ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov said Sunday. UEFA, European soccer's governing body, said it wanted fans to use official charter flights to be able to go to the final without a visa.

Deputy Mayor Valery Vinogradov said the city was fully prepared to host the game and that Moscow had met all of UEFA's demands.

Many fans in England remain concerned about safety in Moscow, where supporters were attacked after a Euro 2008 qualifying match against Russia last year. There is also the possibility of clashes between rival Manchester United and Chelsea fans.

British authorities have also adopted streamlined visa applications procedures for Russian fans of St. Petersburg club Zenit, which will play in the UEFA Cup final against the Glasgow Rangers on May 15 at Manchester, England. Zenit reached the final by beating Bayern Munich 4-0 on Thursday.

Vinogradov said the city has also prepared the public transportation system for visiting fans. About 700 buses and 200 mini-buses will be made available on the day of the game to transport fans, he said. The metro will also remain open until 4 a.m. -- three hours later than normal. "We have also fulfilled our promises on reserving places in the city's hotels. There are around 200 hotels in Moscow, and no other large-scale events have been scheduled for the day of the final. So, I think we can accommodate all comers," he said.