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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Soccer Fans Irate at Visa Refusals

Alone in his Moscow bedroom Tuesday night, Pavel Shalimov stared at his television screen and watched Italy beat his brother's team in the European Championship Soccer Finals in Liverpool. His dream -- to watch the match live -- was shattered four days earlier when the British Embassy denied him a visa to the United Kingdom.


Shalimov is certainly not alone, and the number of soccer fans denied visas has become a matter of contention between British and Russian diplomats.


A spokesman from the British Foreign Office said Monday that 70 visas have been denied to Russians who said they planned to attend the Euro96 football match. "They would not have satisfied the visa officer that the reason for visiting the U.K. was primarily for a visit," the spokesman said. "Well over 1,000 visas were issued. We look very carefully at each application on a case by case basis. A decision to refuse it is not taken lightly."


Shalimov said he had waited three hours at the embassy Friday, only to be told he could not enter the United Kingdom. "I spent more than $1,000 on my ticket and my accommodation and everything," said Shalimov, 34. "I used to play soccer myself, professionally. I know everyone on the team. I introduced my brother to soccer and I've watched him and the team develop over the years. They're all getting on in years now and this will be their last big tournament. And here I am watching it on television."


In Wigan, a few kilometers west of Manchester, where the team is staying before playing against Germany on Sunday, Shalimov's presence was sorely missed. "I was really wanted my brother to come," said midfielder Igor Shalimov. "It was terrible that he didn't."


Bitter at the absence of many of their fans, other members of the national team said Wednesday the incident may have contributed to their losing the match.


"I'm sure it affected the way we played. You always play better when you have lots of fans supporting you," said Yury Nikiforov, a defender on the Russian team. "Fans from all the other countries got their visas and as usual the Russian's didn't."


The Russian Embassy in London has appealed to the Foreign Office asking that the visa procedure be facilitated for fans who have paid for airfare and accommodation, said one embassy official.


The official, who asked not to be identified, denied reports that his embassy planned to reduce the number of visas issued to Britons planning to visit Russia.