June 23, 2018 / 3:44 PM / 3 months ago

Soccer: Fanzone overcrowding fear as World Cup fever sweeps Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Soccer fans planning to watch Russia take on Uruguay in the World Cup on giant outdoor screens in Moscow on Monday should consider avoiding the official FIFA fan zone due to potential overcrowding, local officials said on Saturday.

A fountain is seen at a FIFA World Cup fan zone in Volgograd, Russia, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Russia’s surprise success at the World Cup, going through to the final-16 for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has energised thousands of home fans and Russia is due to take on Uruguay in the city of Samara on Monday.

Moscow’s official FIFA fan zone, located on the Sparrow Hills campus of Moscow State University, has become a magnet for Russian fans who can’t get to the matches but want to watch them on giant outdoor TV screens.

That has sometimes forced organisers to limit the number of people allowed into the fan zone, which has a maximum capacity of 25,000, drawing criticism from some Muscovites who say authorities in a city of around 12 million people should have been prepared for much larger crowds.

“For the last match we couldn’t get in,” said Moscow resident Yelena Shelapova. “There were a lot of people, the fan zone was closed. We didn’t get in. We went home to watch.”

The Moscow mayor’s office said on Saturday that entrance into the fan zone would be restricted for the “most popular matches, which will decide the outcome of the tournament” because of the risk of overcrowding.

“The last few days in Moscow have been an unprecedented sporting celebration: the city has not seen such an influx of fans in decades,” it said in a statement.

“Accordingly, fans are asked not to choose only Sparrow Hills to watch the games,” it said. “It is possible to watch matches on additional screens which have been set up in the city. They are also being shown in many hotels, cafes and restaurants.”

A FIFA spokesman said: “Due to the increasing interest by fans and the limited space, Moscow’s authorities have made a new safety assessment in order to make sure that all visitors continue enjoying their visits to the FIFA Fan Fest.”

Nikolai Gulyaev, head of Moscow’s sport and tourism department, said fans in the Russian capital would have more luck watching Monday’s game in their local bar.

“In this case, you will not have to think about arriving two to three hours before the game,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

“There will be no queues for drinks and food, and the atmosphere of unity and intense football passion is just as good as in open-air fan zones.”

Additional reporting by Catherine Koppel; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Jon Boyle

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