One of the World Cup’s major sponsors is considering reducing its presence in Russia this summer in the aftermath of the Salisbury spy nerve agent attack, as calls for a boycott of the tournament grew on Thursday night.
Sportsmail understands that McDonald’s UK – the fast food company – are yet to exercise an option to take child mascots to Russia this summer because, among other considerations, they are yet to decide that the youngsters would be safe.
The UK arm of official FIFA sponsor McDonald’s Global are thought to have three places available for British children, who would walk out at World Cup games with their heroes.
Child mascots may be a missing pre-game feature at the upcoming World Cup in Russia
But McDonald’s UK, who will be responsible for the security and housing of the mascots, must first be sure that there is no risk to them.
A source insisted that the delay in making the decision pre-dated the Salisbury attack.
The source did not rule out McDonald’s UK joining their global partners in Russia but said they may instead pursue domestic opportunities in Britain this summer.
A McDonald’s spokesman said: ‘Each market can decide how best to join in with our FIFA World Cup sponsorship and the UK is yet to confirm plans for this year’s tournament.’
Many of the company’s operations from elsewhere across the world still intend to send more than 100 children from 30 countries to Russia.
McDonald’s UK are yet to exercise an option to take child mascots to Russia this summer
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson raised the prospect of England boycotting the tournament after the suspected Kremlin-backed attempt to assassinate former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
And former Labour minister Chris Bryant said on Thursday it would be ‘very difficult’ for England to play at the World Cup if Moscow is proved to be linked to the attack.
The Kick It Out anti-discrimination organisation’s education manager Troy Townsend – father of Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend – said that his family would have grave reservations about travelling, if his son were picked in Gareth Southgate’s squad.
‘I tick all the boxes as being a target over there,’ said Townsend Snr. ‘I have to think about the welfare of my family and myself, and whether (Andros) would be comfortable with us being out there. I would not want my son playing out there worrying about if something goes off in the stands or worrying where his family is.’
It emerged on Wednesday that some of the England players’ wives and girlfriends are planning to avoid Russia this summer. Other WAGs will just fly in and out to matches, but fans who do not have that option face being ripped off, Sportsmail can reveal.
Former England captain David Beckham walks out with a mascot during the 2002 World Cup
Figures from Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency show that at least 41 hotels are overcharging guests during the tournament. In some cases, room prices have been hiked to six times their usual rates.
The Agora hotel in Kaliningrad, where England play Belgium, has raised the price more than 10 times above the maximum which FIFA say they can charge, according to the agency.
The Russian government had agreed to limit hospitality costs in the 11 cities hosting games during the World Cup.
The desire of supporters to see Southgate’s team play means that up to 15,000 of them are willing to take their chances.
But Amnesty International have warned about possible police violence towards fans at a tournament.
Wives and girlfriends of England stars will not be out in force in Russia due to security fears
Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, said: ‘Fans should be aware that some of the rights they take for granted in Britain cannot be freely exercised in Russia, and despite official assurances they may come to face this themselves.’
Fan organiser Mark Perryman, who is not travelling this year, said: ‘We have played in Russia in the past when relations with the country were not good. In 2007, the British Council there had been closed down. But there was no problem.’
However, it remains to be seen whether the outcry here about the attempt to kill Skripal will prompt a backlash on England fans in Russia.
Kirill Kleimenov, a news presenter on government-controlled Channel One, mocked the British response when the main evening bulletin finally featured Skripal’s death.
‘I don’t wish death on anyone, but for educational purposes, I have a warning for anyone who dreams of such a career: the profession of a traitor is one of the most dangerous in the world,’ said Kleimenov, adding that few who had chosen to do it had lived into old age.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.