England fans are exploiting a loophole in red tape for the World Cup in a desperate bid to reach Russia – but risk being turned away if their subterfuge is discovered.
Gareth Southgate's team will play Sweden in a quarter-final on Saturday 7 July.
As part of the agreement between Fifa and the Russian government, bona fide fans do not require visas for visits to the host nation that start up to the day of the final, 15 July.
Instead, they can travel with a “Fan-ID”, which is issued free in a simple online process. It takes around five minutes and approval is normally almost instant.
As well as basic passport information, the application also requires a ticket number or Fifa booking reference.
Prior to the tournament it was presumed that the Fan-ID was electronically locked to the match ticket. But The Independent has verified that someone else’s ticket number from a previous game is sufficient to apply successfully for a Fan-ID.
Supporters keen to follow England’s progress through the knockout stages have used a number of strategies to obtain a ticket number.
On Twitter, a supporter identified as “InstantFanID” is offering to share his booking details, telling fellow fans: “I will give you a ticket reference number and you paypal me a pound or two as thanks.
“But you get the ticket ref first – trust system. Message me for deets.”
Other fans have taken the numbers from tickets for past matches that are being offered for sale online as sporting memorabilia.
Using a ticket number from an earlier game, The Independent successfully applied for a Fan-ID for a supporter who does not plan to visit Russia.
But anyone seeking to use a document obtained in this way to try to enter Russia is running significant risks.
The organisers say: “The electronic form of a Fan-ID provides the entry of a spectator to the Russian Federation, the exit from the Russian Federation and guarantees the issue of a Fan-ID in laminated form” – which supporters require to enter any of the stadiums.
But there is the added stipulation: “On condition that the spectator possesses the ticket for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.”
Many fans report that they have been admitted into Russia without having to show a valid ticket. But if there is a surge in supporters heading for Saturday’s England v Sweden game in Samara then frontier officials may start checking for tickets.
Airlines, which face fines if they carry ineligible passengers to Russia, may also require proof in the form of a match ticket before the traveller is allowed on board.
Fares to Samara are surging as demand increases from England fans. The main links are via Moscow or Istanbul, with fares typically around £1,400 return.
Overland travel from the Russian capital is selling out fast.
Some fans are turning their attention to the venue for the next match, were England to beat Sweden. The semi-final will be held in Moscow on Wednesday 11 July, against either Russia or Croatia.
If Croatia beat Russia in their quarter-final, then many more seats for the game in the Luzhniki stadium in the capital are likely to become available.
British Airways has confirmed it may deploy larger aircraft on the route. At present it has three flights a day between Heathrow and Domodedovo airport in Moscow. One is a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with the other two using narrow-bodied Airbus A321 jets.
One or more of these services could be switched to a much larger Boeing 777 if demand is sufficiently strong.
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