Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has issued a warning to Russia that it has a duty to ensure England fans travelling to the World Cup are properly protected.
Giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Johnson compared Russia’s hosting of the tournament to Hitler’s notorious Berlin Olympics in 1936, describing it as an “emetic prospect”.
Following the plunge in diplomatic relations in the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attack, Mr Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” as to how the travelling England fans would be treated.
While the Foreign Office has so far stopped short of advising fans not to go to the tournament starting in June, he said they were monitoring the situation “very, very closely”.
“It is up to the Russians to guarantee the safety of England fans going to Russia. It is their duty under their Fifa contract to look after our fans,” he said.
“We are watching it very, very closely. At the moment we are not inclined actively to dissuade people from going because we want to hear from the Russians what steps they are going to take to look after our fans.
Even before events in Salisbury, there were concerns that England fans could be targeted by violent Russian hooligan gangs.
Mr Johnson said the UK authorities had been co-operating with Russians at a “policing level” but there were now questions as to how that would continue.
He said that so far there had been 24,000 applications from England fans to attend the World Cup, well down on the 94,000 applications at the same stage of the Rio World Cup in 2014.
“The numbers are well down but that does not mean we are not deeply concerned about how they may be treated,” he said.
“My challenge to the Russian authorities is to show how the 24,000 UK applicants for tickets to the football World Cup are going to be well treated, are going to be safe.”
Mr Johnson was challenged by Labour MP Ian Austin if he thought Vladimir Putin intended to use the event “in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics” as a propaganda exercise to “gloss over” Russia’s “gross human rights abuses”.
The Foreign Secretary replied: “I think that your characterisation of what is going to happen in Moscow, the World Cup, in all the venues – yes, I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right.
“I think it’s an emetic prospect, frankly, to think of Putin glorying in this sporting event.”