British royals, politicians to skip World Cup over poisoning

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the scheduled Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 14, 2018. May is widely expected to announce a range of economic and diplomatic measures against Russia, in response to the nerve-agent on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (PA via AP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May says members of the royal family and politicians will not go to the World Cup to protest against the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England

LONDON — British politicians and royals will not attend the World Cup in Russia after the poisoning of a former spy in England, Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday, although she didn't address calls to boycott the tournament completely.

The largely symbolic announcement, coming three months before England is to play at the tournament, was among a series of measures hitting back at the Kremlin. May said the attempted murder of ex-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury represented an "unlawful use of force by the Russian state."

The attack has heightened diplomatic tensions between the countries, and travelers to Russia have been warned they could face anti-British sentiment. There are three months until the opening of the June 14-July 15 World Cup.

Explaining the rationale for politicians and royalty not going to the soccer showpiece, British May said that "in the aftermath of this appalling act against our country this relationship cannot be the same."

The English Football Association, whose president is Prince William, has avoided commenting directly on calls by some politicians, including the leader of the Liberal Democrats, not to send its national team to Russia.

"The FA will continue to work closely with the UK government and relevant authorities regarding our participation in this summer's FIFA World Cup and the Women's World Cup qualifier in June," English soccer's governing body said in a statement.

"Our priority for all England matches is to ensure the safety and security of the fans, players and staff. As is standard practice, we will take all travel guidance from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

The travel advice was updated on Wednesday, reflecting the chilly relations between Britain and Russia, who have long disagreed about other issues, including Moscow's intervention in the war in Syria and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russian officials have also bridled at criticism from British media about doping in Russian sports.

"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," the Foreign Office said. "You're advised to remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and avoid commenting publicly on political developments."

FIFA noted the British government stance, acknowledging "it is up to each country independently, to decide on their attendance" of diplomatic visitors to the World Cup.

Russian soccer officials are pleased the England team will still be making the trip in June.

"It's not so important that officials wouldn't come. That's their problem," Nikita Simonyan, vice president of the Russian Football Union, was quoted saying by the Interfax news agency. "It's important if the team comes, and it wants to come."

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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