May 8, 2018 / 5:00 PM / 3 months ago

UK police chief: Russia committed to safety of World Cup fans

LONDON (Reuters) - British authorities expect Russian police to be in firm control of security during this summer’s soccer World Cup and determined to prevent any violence against England fans, a parliamentary committee heard on Tuesday.

A view shows Volgograd Arena in Volgograd, the host city for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

With diplomatic relations between the two countries in crisis and a history of clashes between their soccer supporters, some British media have been predicting mayhem on the streets of Russian cities.

But Britain’s lead police officer for soccer, Mark Roberts, said authorities in both countries had been cooperating to prevent any violence and he believed Russia was on top of security for the complex event.

“We’ve had a great number of meetings with them and every time we’ve met them, there is a consistent reassurance that their aspiration is to put on a safe event that shows Russia to the best of its abilities,” he told parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

He described the Russian approach to policing soccer matches as “paramilitary” in style and said it involved very large numbers of officers in riot gear to deter troublemakers.

He also stressed that Britain expected only genuine England fans to be at the World Cup, with more than 2,000 known hooligans being prevented from going by banning orders.

England fans have had a reputation for hooliganism since the 1970s and caused serious trouble at the 1998 World Cup in France and the European Championships in Belgium in 2000. British police have since then banned known troublemakers and confiscated their passports.

Not a single Briton was arrested for soccer-related disorder at tournaments in South Africa in 2010, Poland and Ukraine in 2012 or Brazil in 2014.

But during the 2016 European Championship in France, England and Russia were threatened with expulsion after brawls between hooligans from both sides led to serious injuries and scenes of chaos on the streets of the southern French city of Marseille.

Roberts pointed to several matches in Russia in recent years involving English teams that had passed without violence and said the threat should not be over-hyped.

Several lawmakers appeared skeptical, suggesting Roberts was naive and overly relaxed, but he stuck to his assessment throughout the session.

He was pressed on the degree of disruption caused by Moscow’s expulsion of Britain’s official in charge of World Cup preparations, as part of a wider diplomatic row. Roberts said that was not optimal, but the British authorities were still able to provide the best advice and services to traveling fans.

Britain and Russia expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats following a March nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy in England, blamed by the British government on Russia which denies any involvement.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Andrew Roche

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