New Delhi (Sputnik) — Every edition of the FIFA World Cup receives stadiums full of devoted football fans from all over the world. This year, however, even those who are not-too-crazy about the beautiful game are excited at the prospect of traveling to Russia for the upcoming tournament. Travel forums are buzzing with discussions about various possible itineraries around the 11 host cities.
A large number of international travelers are feeling welcome to visit Russia due to a singular sports tourism initiative — the FAN ID. It's a free cost personalized visitor card that serves as a multiple entry visa, valid from 4th June to 25th July, 2018, and also offers free public transport on game days. Tourists want to make the most of this freedom to explore Russia and some are even willing to buy just about any available World Cup ticket in order to be eligible for a FAN ID.
The usage of FAN IDs had a successful dry run during the Confederations Cup in Russia last year. Sputnik spoke to a football fan from the United States, Alan Macher, who attended the tournament and will revisit the country for the World Cup.
"If I were to go to Russia outside of the World Cup, it's a whole different process. It would cost me US$155, which is basically the cost of a game, and it's a lot more involved process. So the FAN ID is a great way to go to Russia without a visa," says Alan Macher who is a travel enthusiast and blogger.
Watch Putin receive his own personal FIFA World Cup Fan ID – which is mandatory if you want to catch any of the games at this year’s biggest sporting event in Russia! pic.twitter.com/m5PugMc596— RT (@RT_com) May 4, 2018
"Russia is a big country. There are a lot of places that I would like to visit. But all of those can't be covered in one trip. I hope to visit the far-east side, especially Siberia, in a future trip. But for this time we'll be seeing the urban Russia, St. Petersburg and Moscow, and experience the ambiance of the World Cup. We will also visit museums and war memorials," Shil said as he shared his plans of rooting for the Brazilian team with his school friends.
Shil is currently waiting to receive his FAN ID through the local VFS visa application center.
"There is an option to collect our FAN ID once we reach Russia. They will email us a scanned copy that can be used to enter Russia, but not for exiting. Which means that we can collect the physical card from a distribution centre in Moscow when we get there," Shil informed Sputnik about the information that he had gathered from the FAN ID official website.
Macher was in a similar situation last year, "I was a bit apprehensive about receiving the FAN ID but we did receive it a couple of weeks before we were to travel. And we were kept up to date of the whole process," he said and added "The hardest part for me to get a FAN ID was to take a proper picture. I probably tried about 15 times and had to keep uploading picture after picture. It was very frustrating."
A federal law was passed in 2013 to this end. Before the World Cup in 2014, Russian President Vladimir said that "Russia plans to take the FIFA World Cup a step further in some areas. For example, we passed a federal law, establishing a special visa regime for foreigners who will help to organize the 2018 Championship, and enabling not only the official participants, such as the athletes, referees, coaches and others but also the fans to visit Russia without visas before and during the competition. The history of football championships has never seen anything like this before."
For the FIFA World Cup, Russia have replaced visas with a fan ID system that travelling supporters can use for the duration of the tournament. pic.twitter.com/jA0yHullCa— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) April 14, 2018
The public transport arrangements on match days will also be a lot more than what has ever been deployed for an international tournament of such a high level. Over 700 additional trains will transport spectators between the host cities during the course of the World Cup. Spectators were allowed free transport during Confederations Cup as well.
"At the Confederations Cup we didn't take advantage of the free intercity trains but instead booked the high-speed train from Moscow to St Petersburg which was very comfortable, efficient and reasonably priced. We could use the FAN-ID and game ticket for free metro and bus transportation within the host cities on game days. I was able to travel for free from Moscow airport to downtown, when I arrived in Moscow, by Aero Express with my game ticket for a Moscow match and FAN ID," Macher explained.
Visitors will also be able to take help from volunteers who'll be posted at key locations across host cities. "When you arrive in Russia just walk straight to immigration with your passport and FAN ID. When you walk out into the lobby there'll be volunteers. They are very eager to help but sometimes they might give you wrong information, I ended up in a metro station far away. It is also a good idea to always have a smartphone with Google Earth at your fingertips. But the volunteers did help me to top-up my metro card that I could use on non-match days," Macher said, sharing his experience from last year.
FAN ID is meant to ensure hassle-free travel experience for World Cup visitors. Besides it also serves to ensure security. It is a mandatory identification document that is being allocated only to the spectators who've purchased tickets for at least one match through the FIFA online ticketing website. This also means that anyone who has been blacklisted for hooliganism can't enter the stadiums.
"It just kind of adds another level of security and it really allows the authorities in Russia to vet everybody and know exactly who is going to be at every other game before the first game even begins," Macher explained. "Getting into the games was very similar to airports with metal detectors and body searches. I felt safe at the games. I travelled all the way from England to Russia and I visited a lot of countries along the way and I actually did feel the safest in Russia."
This arrangement is sure to prove as a masterstroke in facilitating mass scale sports tourism and ensuring safety. From the point of view of international travelers, the FAN ID is a lucrative package that comes bundled with many perks and provides a never-before seen opportunity to explore Russia.