Political tensions between the UK and Russia after the Salisbury nerve agent attack could force some England fans to alter World Cup plans.
Recent reports indicate ticket sales to England supporters are nowhere near the level they were for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued new travel advice to anyone intending to visit Russia in June and July.
Tensions between the UK and Russia have heightened in recent weeks following the Salisbury nerve agent incident involving former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Given the current political climate between the two countries, the FCO is urging travellers to steer clear of any protests and avoid commenting publicly on political developments while in Russia.
“Due to heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time,” warns the official FCO advisory.
Gareth Southgate’s England will head to Russia in the summer, with Group G fixtures against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium in the cities of Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad.
The ongoing situation has seen many fans alter their travel plans ahead of football’s biggest tournament, with England supporter Max Bell, 25, from Scunthorpe, among those affected.
Max’s “two-week trip of a lifetime” to Russia with university friends has been impacted by events and scaled back as a result.
“It has been a wrench, trying to work out what to do and where we should stay, but we’ve made our minds up,” Max told Sky News.
“We have decided to fly into Lithuania, stay there and drive up to Kaliningrad just for the final group game against Belgium. This was meant to be the trip of a lifetime but we’ve changed things round now.
“We’ve watched the news about Salisbury and followed it all closely and this is what we’re going to do.
“Of course, if England progress from the group and go a long way into the knockout stages we will have to look at it again.”
One report in The Times suggests the Football Association has sold fewer than 2,000 tickets to official supporters for England’s group games against Tunisia and Panama, and England does not even register in the top 10 countries for tickets already sold.
But one London-based tour operator is adamant that it will be a tournament to remember – for all the right reasons.
“The Russians have been superbly well-organised and extremely hospitable in all our dealings with them,” said Miles Saward from Sportoptions.com, the UK’s largest football and sports operator.
“We attended the Confederations Cup last year and that went very well indeed. As far as we are concerned it’s business as usual. There has been no drop off whatsoever.”