The United States national soccer team failed to qualify for the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia, the first time it will miss soccer’s biggest event since 1986. This won’t keep all American fans away from Moscow and the 10 other cities hosting the tournament in June, but it’s one of many factors that have appeared to have dampened interest in visiting.
“I think more than anything it just feels like a logistical nightmare,” said Dan Wiersema, the head of communications for the American Outlaws, a group of U.S. Soccer supporters that organized trips for fans to the last two men’s World Cups and the 2015 women’s World Cup. “You’re going halfway around the world, and if your team’s not in the World Cup, that seems like a whole lot of legwork for a lot of unknowns.”
Mr. Wiersema added that in a country as diverse as the United States, there are plenty of Americans who will be rooting for other teams competing in Russia — but ticket sales show a clear drop in interest from Americans compared to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“In Brazil, American fans had a huge presence. Being in a relatively similar time zone and an attractive destination made it very easy for an American fan to travel there,” Mr. Wiersema said.
According to FIFA, the world soccer federation, of the nearly 5 million ticket requests made before its random selection draw sales period ended on Jan. 31, roughly 87,000 were from fans in the United States, the 10th most of any country. (Russia was first, followed by Germany.) For the 2014 tournament, spectators from the United States purchased a total of nearly 200,000 tickets, more than any other country other than the host.
Some may also be waiting for the 2019 women’s World Cup in France, which is a potentially more attractive travel destination for Americans in terms of infrastructure and location. It’s also where fans can root for the defending-champion U.S. women’s team.
“You’re talking about a country that has a great rail network and is relatively close to East Coast-based airports. When you put that all together as an American soccer fan and a travel fan, there’s a lot of people who have eyeballs on it,” Mr. Wiersema said.
Mr. Wiersema, whose group sent more than 500 members to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, also cited potential worries related to Russia’s geopolitical situation, the violent reputation of some of its soccer fans and its government’s position on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“Russia has made it quite clear about its stance on gay fans, which I know gives a lot of our members and U.S. fans concern,” Mr. Wiersema said, referring to a law that outlaws “homosexual propaganda.” In response to those expressing reservations, a Russian Football Union official said last November that, “you can come here and not be fined for expressing feelings. The law is about propaganda to minors.”
“As demonstrated during the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, Russia’s already high security standards have been adapted to meet the specific needs of such major sporting events,” a FIFA spokesman told Reuters in February after another violent altercation involving Russian soccer supporters.
More recently, the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in southern England has added to the tension between the two countries heading into the World Cup.
“We do need to be very, very careful for British fans who are traveling there that they are not in any way caught up in the politics of this,” Tom Tugendhat, a British lawmaker, told the BBC.
Still, do not expect to see many empty seats at this year’s World Cup, which is easily one of the most anticipated sporting events every four years.
The fact that there will still be several thousand Americans attending, in addition to many others from around the world, highlights the strong pull this event has, no matter where it is played.
“I have friends who are excited to go because they wouldn’t miss an opportunity like this,” Mr. Wiersema said.
If You Go
If you miss the current online period for purchasing tickets, which concludes on April 3, the final phase for buying tickets is from April 18 through the final match of the tournament and is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
As with recent Olympic Games, you can only use a VISA card to purchase official tickets from the event organizers, because of VISA’s sponsorship deal. FIFA.com also states that they will accept bank transfers. For more ticket information, visit fifa.com/tickets.
All fans attending World Cup matches will need a Fan ID card. Attendees must have the card along with a valid ticket to enter the match stadium. Fans can obtain their ID once they have received their tickets or after receiving a ticket confirmation notice.
The Fan ID has plenty of travel perks, including visa-free entry to Russia for foreign visitors who have purchased match tickets. It allows visitors to stay in the country from 10 days before the first match to 10 days after the last match. For more information, visit fan-id.ru.
Be mindful of price gouging. Russian consumer regulators have already issued fines to several hotels, including one in Moscow that was accused of raising prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by the government.
FIFA has set up its own hotel finder, where you can search by city, venue and other destination points. But availability for dates pegged to specific location’s matches is currently difficult to find, so hunting through your preferred travel booking website may yield better results. For more information, visit hotels.fifa.com.
Once in the country, those with a Fan ID get free transportation on intercity trains and public transport in the host cities. Others planning on visiting multiple cities within Russia can book regional trains and flights. For more information, visit transport2018.com and welcome2018.com.