Belfast Telegraph

Visa review urge after Russian side forced to pull out of SuperCupNI

By Mark Bain

The Home Office has been urged to review its visa policy after a Russian football team was denied the chance to compete at this year's SuperCupNI.

A squad of under-17 players from Spartak Moscow were due to take part in this year's prestigious youth football tournament on the north coast, but had to pull out at the last minute after complications over club officials entering Northern Ireland.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said he was alerted to concerns over the travelling party last week, but despite last minute efforts to find a solution the club was forced to stay at home.

Mr Campbell said: "I was approached last Thursday to help the organisers as they sought to ensure every team could be represented. But given the 48 hour timeframe, with the team due to fly into Northern Ireland on Saturday, it proved impossible to make any arrangements.

"I'm well aware there needs to be strict guidelines on people travelling into Northern Ireland, but this is a youth football team, and from what I understand all the young players had no issues over visas, this was concerning adult members of the travelling party.

"It's obviously disappointing for the organisers and for the supporters, who look forward to the opportunity to watch stars of the future from all around the world.

"But the Home Office made its decision despite interventions to help resolve matters.

"The Spartak Moscow team have played at the tournament in the past and I'm sure they, as well as organisers and spectators, will be disappointed that they won't be here this year.

"The Home Office needs to review its guidelines, especially where they apply to repeat visits. Hopefully in the future we can welcome the whole range of teams across the globe back to the tournament."

SuperCup PR manager Jim Sandford said he was disappointed the last-minute efforts to bring the Moscow team to the tournament had failed.

"This is a huge blow for the young players who had been looking forward to coming to Northern Ireland and competing in our event," he said.

"We did absolutely everything within our power to bring Spartak Moscow to Northern Ireland, to no avail.

"We are grateful to Gregory Campbell MP for his help in this matter."

The Russian team had planned to compete in the Premier Section of the popular youth football tournament, as they had done in previous years with no issues.

Spartak Moscow executive Ekaterina Anisimova said: "We are really disappointed that political questions can interfere with sporting and cultural events."

A Home Office spokesman said: "All visa applications are considered on their individual merits. We do not routinely comment on specific cases."

Belfast Telegraph

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