MOSCOW, November 30, 2017 - Fans can travel free by train to their matches at the FIFA World Cup finals in Russia next year. But they should beware. No doubting the hospitable gesture but it is not as simple as it sounds.
The details behind the complexity of the operation emerged at a media briefing here in Moscow on the eve of the draw for the first World Cup staged in eastern Europe.
Everything points to an essential sliver of advice for anyone wishing to attend Russia next June and July whether as fan, tourist, commercial partner or journalist: act on the traditional scout's motto and 'be (well) prepared.'
First step is for fans to obtain a ticket through the authorised sale site. Step two is obtaining a Fan-ID. Then fans must apply through yet another dedicated web portal for a free two-part rail ticket to the ticketed match (or matches).
Note that the free trains are specials. Possession of a match ticket will not provide free travel on the standard Russian rail network
Also, any fan visiting Russia with friends and/or relatives will not be able to buy them tickets so they can all travel together on the World Cup Specials. They will have to purchase tickets on separate trains or flights and travel independently.
The logistical operation facing the Russians is riskily daunting. In the next weeks they must process the sale of a further 2.5m tickets, manage a similar number of Fan-ID applications and then co-ordinate subsequent applications for free rail tickets.
Second 'must' after buying a ticket is obtaining a Fan-ID which substitutes the need for a visa for a majority of ticket-holding foreign fans heading for the finals.
Russian communications director Andrey Chernenko said: "The validity of the Fan-ID lasts from 10 days before the beginning of the World Cup until 10 days after the end of the World Cup.
"To access the stadium you need both your ticket and Fan-ID. You just touch a turnstile with your Fan-ID and you are identified and you get access. It's quick and convenient. We know this from the Confederations Cup so everyone is happy, everyone is smiling because no-one has any trouble."
What Chernenko did not stress was the security aspect since the Fan-ID is also a system through which any hooligans with a record, at home or abroad, Russian or foreign, will be shut out.
The Russians also hope to link the Fan-ID system into a public free wifi network.
Once an application has been approved Fan-IDs can be sent out by post, collected at one of the worldwide VFS Global centres or picked up in a host city. Of course foreign visitors need to obtain it, one way or another, before they set out for Russia.
Next issue is the free trains.
Transport co-ordinator Pavel Hilchenko said that fans holding a ticket for a specific match can apply to use the free train serving that specific match. Booking through a dedicated portal or app will depend on submitting details of both match ticket and Fan-ID.
Hence any accompanying friends or relatives on tourist visas without a match ticket, must make separate travel arrangements. Buying extra tickets on the Specials is not envisaged nor does the Fan-ID offer general free rail travel during the finals.
Hilchenko said it was hoped to extend the free train option to accredited journalists just as the system had been extended part-way through the Confederations Cup.