Russian fans say dozens barred from Confederations Cup

Russian fans cheer during the Confederations Cup, Group A soccer match between Russia and New Zealand, at the St. Petersburg Stadium, Russia, Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

MOSCOW — Russian fans say dozens — including a notorious fan leader — have been barred from going to Confederations Cup games after their identity documents were unexpectedly cancelled.

Fans at the tournament require not only tickets but also a Russian government-issued "fan ID," in a measure designed to allow the state to filter out potential troublemakers.

A Moscow-based hotline providing legal support for fans says many Russians had IDs granted which were cancelled hours before Russia’s opening game against New Zealand, making their tickets useless.

The Multilingual Fan Support Center says it has received "tens of messages from fans about the annulment of previously issued fan IDs."

No reasons were given, the centre said, and appeals are planned. Russian law gives authorities sweeping jurisdiction to refuse fans permission to attend games at the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup.

Fan leader Alexander Shprygin, who was twice expelled from France last year following violence between Russian and English supporters in Marseille, says his ID was cancelled and he has heard of around 50 similar cases.

Shprygin, who heads the Russian Fans’ Union, told The Associated Press he had driven part of the way from Moscow to St. Petersburg when he was notified by email that his ID was no longer valid.

"There’s basically no reason for this," Shprygin. "I’ve never broken the law at a football game, never been arrested. I don’t know why this happened."

Members of various fan groups from top Russian clubs including Lokomotiv Moscow and Dynamo Moscow were also refused, he said.

Shprygin’s organization once received support from the Russian government and football authorities, but was unceremoniously cut loose last year after two of its then-board members received prison sentences in France for their part in fan violence at the European Championship.

The mass annulment of IDs does not appear to be connected to a separate blacklist of those convicted for hooliganism and firework use at games, which bars 191 fans from attending any sports events in Russia. Fans from that list who applied for Confederations Cup IDs were refused immediately, long before the tournament, the fan help centre said.

The Russian police would not comment on individual cancellations, but suggested fans could have IDs cancelled if evidence later emerged they had been involved in trouble abroad.

"Law enforcement bodies carefully analyze all offences at football games, both those committed in Russian stadiums and those committed by hooligans abroad," police said in an emailed statement provided by the Russian organizing committee for the Confederations Cup and World Cup.

"So people who were observed in relation to serious breaches face significantly higher chances of losing the right to attend Confederations Cup and World Cup games."

Despite the apparent crackdown, some members of hardcore Russian fan groups attended Saturday’s Russia-New Zealand game and scuffled among themselves and with stewards.