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Loophole exposed to get easier entry to World Cup in Russia

England flags watch the Group G match between England and Panama at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, on June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

KALININGRAD, Russia (AP) -- Relaxing strict visa requirements for the World Cup, Russia made entry even easier than intended for foreigners. Supporters from England are being advised to exploit the loophole.

    To cope with its biggest influx of foreigners, Russia just asked for ticket details to be provided to obtain government-approved Fan IDs that double as visas and are mandatory to enter stadiums. Before the knockout rounds, the official supporters' group in England has uncovered the gap in the system that allows people to travel to Russia without a match ticket.

    All that is required to complete the Fan ID process -- along with a photo, passport data and other personal information -- is a match ticket reference.

    "It could even be a match ticket in somebody else's name or a game that's already taken place," Football Supporters' Federation chief executive Kevin Miles told The Associated Press in Kaliningrad before England's last group stage against Belgium on Thursday. "What that allows you to do is to get the electronic version of the Fan ID within a few minutes so that you're able to enter the country."

    England, along with Belgium, has already secured a spot in the round of 16 and Miles hopes the loophole will encourage more supporters to fly to Russia for the knockout stage.

    "You can have a great time at the World Cup without a ticket," Miles said. "The experience of the fans who have been out in Russia is clearly at variance with what the expectations a lot of people had been before the tournament."

    After trips to Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod, England fans were arriving Wednesday in the most westerly of the World Cup host cities. Kaliningrad is cut off from the rest of Russia but provides multiple entry points for fans. English people who couldn't find flights were arriving in the Russian exclave by bus from neighboring Poland and reported several security checks and delays around the border.

    "If anyone is doing anything slightly dodgy, there is absolutely no way they are going to get into this country," London-based England fan Billy Grant said after leaving the bus. "We had a camera come through which was recording everybody and obviously they had facial recognition. The security was hardcore."

    The discovery that Fan IDs don't require a match ticket is because details from the sales system aren't shared by Swiss-based tournament organizer FIFA with the Russian government because of data protection regulations.

    "In line with such policies, FIFA doesn't transfer any personal data of ticket customers to the Ministry of Mass Communications," world football's governing body said in a statement to the AP. "Any personal data used in connection with the issuance of Fan IDs is collected and stored by the ministry itself without any involvement from FIFA. FIFA solely provides the ministry with ticket application IDs in an anonymized procedure, thus not sharing any personal data with the ministry."

    The shortcomings in the Fan ID system could have implications for migration into Russia.

    Authorities in Finland have said they already intercepted a group of migrants with Fan IDs trying to enter the country, apparently after using Russia as a staging point on their journey to the European Union. Russian authorities will have records of personal information such as address and passport details, but less information than is generally required for a visa.

    However, the security issues are likely to be limited by Russia's terrorist watch list system.

    "I imagine it's an embarrassment for the Russians, because I suspect this is an oversight rather than something they had thought through," said Mark Galeotti, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Relations in Prague who has closely followed Russian security agencies.

    The Football Supporters' Federation said it would still not allow fans prevented by British authorities from traveling to foreign football matches -- currently 1,312 people -- making the trip to the World Cup.

    "Instead it makes traveling to Russia just like anywhere else," Miles said. "It doesn't allow anyone on a Football Banning Order to sneak into the country because they have to surrender their passports anyway. It just levels the playing field, makes Russia during the World Cup for the limited duration of the World Cup easily accessible."

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