Tens of thousands of British football supporters face chaos when they apply for expensive Russian visas to watch their team in the European Champions League final in Moscow next month, reports The Guardian.
At least 21,000 fans - and as many as 42,000 if two English teams win through - will have to fight the notorious Russian consulate system and pay £70 for visas in time for the match on 21 May. Many could end up paying specialist visa companies £250 to make their arrangements.
Senior football administrators and fans fear that Russian diplomats in London will be unable to cope with the demand for the match that will be between the winners of this week's two semi-finals, Chelsea v Liverpool and Manchester United against Barcelona. Each team in the final will be allocated 21,000 tickets.
Russian visa requirements say that 'individual travellers need a letter of invitation issued by a Russian travel agency authorised in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), or from a Russian hotel, showing the reference number of the company in the MFA and the confirmation number for the visa'.
"I understand why people wonder if we can do all those visa applications in time," said Ildar Khafizov, director of the Russian National Tourist Office in London, which is handling all the visa applications for the embassy.
"But I urge fans not to panic. There's a plan for this. We will take on extra staff, work every day, use call centres, expand the capacity of our website and have visa collection points in London, Manchester or Liverpool, depending on who qualifies. We are ready for the English supporters going to Moscow."
Supporters are also facing sky-high prices because demand has sent the price of flights and hotel rooms soaring by as much as 500 per cent. There is already an accommodation crisis in the city, which is preparing to host Russia's biggest sporting event since the 1980 Olympics.
"We are advising people not to travel unless they have a hotel room - because there aren't any," said a spokesman for the British Embassy.