Russia 2018: Soccer and security

par Liam James Burton

Googling “Munich 1972” does not bring images of gold medal winners, world record holders, or sporting prowess. Instead of highlights from the track or pool of the 1972 summer Olympic Games, the top returned link is “Munich Massacre” and the image section is filled with grainy images of balaclavas, submachine guns, and bloodstained hotel rooms.

While Munich is the most infamous and most shocking case, it has not been the only attempt at terrorizing a sporting event. Soccer tournaments and high-profile games have been a natural target. French intelligence services prevented an attack on the 1998 World Cup game between England and Tunisia in Marseille. Dutch intelligence also states that they halted plans to perpetrate attacks at the Euro 2000 tournament.

The most recent targeting of a soccer game was in 2016. While the attacks on the Bataclan music venue in Paris on Friday the 13th caused several fatalities there was a failed attack on the Parc des Princes where France was hosting Germany.

Major sporting events bring together thousands of people from different nations. They champion diversity and togetherness; friendly competition and respect. There is no greater event than the World Cup in either size or prestige. It is worth noting that FIFA, the governing body of global soccer, has more member states than the United Nations. And according to FIFA’s own numbers, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil the 64 matches had a gross attendance of 3.5 million across 12 host cities. The gross attendance at ‘fan parks’ (places to view the games on big screens) was 5.1 million. The site also proudly states the Brazilian government received US$7.2 billion in tax revenue from the tournament.

The host for this summer’s tournament is the Russian Federation with the event spread over 11 host cities. Ensuring safety for this many people, across so many cities, entering from every corner of the globe, leads to the need for watertight policy.

The entirety of policing and intelligence operations are not the focus of this piece, instead I will look at one key new policy.

  (image: « Fifa World Cup 2018 Fan ID », Wikimedia)


The Fan-ID is a new creation to ensure the security of all those who have bought a ticket for a game at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, Russia 2018. This photo-ID will ensure “comfort and safety at the stadium” and, more importantly, gives all holders free access to public transport across the nation and Visa-free entry into the Russian Federation. Whilst the first perk seems to be nothing but buzzwords, the second and third benefits are excellent. 

The process is completed after one purchases a game ticket and falls into three stages. Registration of the applicant; a wait for approval from the appropriate body; then receipt of the ID.

Working backwards, the ID can be mailed to your address or picked up the a “Collection Centre” or a Russian Visa Application Center where one must present an original ID, and if collecting a ticket for an under fourteen year-old, an original birth certificate.

The middle step, application approval, is a bureaucratic action conducted by the Ministry of Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation as well as “by the federal executive body responsible for security”.

It is the first step, the registration, that is interesting and worth analyzing as the amount of personal data one must hand over is quite staggering. To gain a Fan-ID, one must hand over:

“ Family name, first name, patronymic (second name/names), the date, month, and year of birth, gender, a description of the identity document (type of document, series, number, issuing authority, data of issue), citizenship, ticket number or ticket order number for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, photo, mobile phone number, email address, and postal address.”

Firstly, we must note that by giving over an e-mail address a ticket holder is handing over their social media accounts, if this includes a LinkedIn then you are additionally handing over your work details. Secondly, by giving cell-phone numbers one is handing over GPS access that can be tracked in disturbing ways. After agreeing to hand over this data to the authorities, you are permitting:

“Collection, recording, systematization, gathering, preservation, clarification (new information, changes), extraction, use, transmission (distribution, provision of access), anonymization, locking, deletion, and destruction of personal information.”

I will not dwell on the Orwellian-sounding phrases that lead off the list, rather I will note the positive ending. The last two statements regarding deletion and destruction, whilst probably being a tautology, suggest that perhaps sceptical concerns are misplaced. Your information is “stored in the soccer fans’ identification system until 25 July 2018”. This date is shortly after the final game of the tournament and the remaining celebrating fans have sobered up and left. However, there is a suffix to this quote. This is that fans information is: 

“stored in the soccer fans’ identification system until 25 July 2018 inclusive unless otherwise specified in Russian legislation” [emphasis added]. Thus, if the Duma votes accordingly, your data could remain in their database.

As stated above, the previous World Cup in Brazil had a total official attendance of 3,5 million. This can include repeat attendees (those who went to more than one game), and does not differentiate between domestic and international fans. Furthermore, there is no inclusion of those who travel to the tournament and do not attend games (fans who come ‘for the experience’ as well as services related to the tournament), thus could easily under-represent the true number of attendees. Other tournament attendances are listed here but we can grasp just how many people the Russian government would be legally and willingly, if not explicitly knowingly, gathering from their visitors. 

For those of you less familiar with soccer, the USA failed to qualify for the tournament. The Russians were probably the nation most upset by USA’s failure – it was reported that there were more American fans (200,000) than any other nation at the last World Cup in Brazil. While the US failed to qualify, other nations with notable and interesting  relationships with Russia are attending such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt (click here for the final draw results).

Given the historical events of Munich and Paris, and the thankful non-events of Marseille and the Netherlands, it is understandable how seriously the Russian Federation will take security concerns ahead of a major sporting event. Additionally, I am not under the naive belief that they would be the only state or non-state actor participating in large-scale data collection. However, it is important to raise questions regarding what levels of information we must hand over under the proviso of safety, and show some cynicism regarding a mass data-collection scheme disguised as a bus pass. Finally, it must be reiterated that this data-collection only applies to those who have purchased a ticket to a World Cup match. Those who wish to show up and cause trouble under the regular VISA application need only forgo the minimum $105 ticket price.

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