Soccer match tickets achieved unprecedented status this week on the international travel scene. In a first, fans traveling to Moscow for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League final on May 21 will be permitted to substitute their match ticket for a visa, the Russian government announced Monday. The game tickets will be good for entry into the Russian Federation for a 72-hour period, beginning May 19 and expiring May 23.
The announcement puts an end to a week-long period of confusion for English soccer fans, after Manchester United and Chelsea qualified for the first ever all-English Champions League Final. English soccer supporters spent last week hounding the Russian embassy in a relentless quest to determine what exactly the entry requirements would be for the Eastern Bloc country. Visits to Russia require a visa, and with a very short time in which to obtain them, it looked doubtful that tens of thousands of traveling fans could possibly be catered to in time.
UEFA stated that the decision was arrived at to maximize efficiency for traveling fans and ensure a safe and enjoyable event, in part by making it difficult for rowdy, ticketless fans to enter the country to cause trouble. Talks between UEFA President Michel Platini and the Russian Government were responsible for the novel development.
“This is great news for football fans travelling to watch this year’s UEFA Champions League final in Moscow,” Platini said in a statement on the UEFA website. “Our job is to make sure that they are able to get to and from Moscow as easily as possible. I am therefore extremely pleased that, at my request, all fans travelling with a valid match ticket can use this to enter Russian territory, and for this I must thank wholeheartedly the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, the Russian Government, the City of Moscow and the Football Union of Russia for this exceptional and unprecedented gesture.”
Tickets to the match have been difficult to come by for several reasons. UEFA is notorious for distributing large blocks of tickets to VIPs and other clubs and their officials, and also because Russian fans snapped up large quantities because this is the first time the event has been held in Moscow. With both teams’ global appeal, the game has quickly become one of the more eagerly anticipated games in recent memory.
Soccer fans entering the country will be required to show a valid match ticket and passport, plus a completed immigration form. Fans have been asked to retain their ticket until they leave Russia. People remaining in the country beyond May 23 will be forced to pay the fee for a regular visa in order to leave the country.