England’s footballers have arrived in Russia for the World Cup as campaigners criticised a leading FIFA official for defending its lenient punishments for racist incidents.
Gareth Southgate’s squad flew in to St Petersburg on Tuesday afternoon and took a coach to their training base in Repino, 30 miles (45km) away.
A heavy police escort accompanied them on the 45-minute drive from the airport and security guards were seen outside the Country Club ForRestMix hotel.
A handful of fans were waiting outside their hotel on arrival.
The Three Lions’ first match in group G is against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday evening.
Before they left for Russia, FIFA’s deputy secretary general Zvonimir Boban said the governing body’s lenient punishments for racist incidents were justified because entire countries cannot be punished for the actions of a “few idiots”.
Last month, the tournament hosts were fined just 30,000 Swiss francs (£22,737) by FIFA for racist chants by their supporters during a friendly against France in March.
Several England players have also voiced concerns ahead of the World Cup and before departure the squad posed for a photograph holding red cards which read ‘Show racism the red card’ in support of the anti-racism campaign.
The 23-man squad includes 11 black, Asian and ethnic minority players – the highest number they have taken to any major competition.
But Boban told the Times he is confident the tournament will not be affected.
“I don’t believe we will see these idiots, but we have procedures. I believe we do enough at FIFA,” he said.
“We have to look after the players, but how far do you punish the game for a few idiots? To punish a whole city, a whole country when less than one percent of the people are guilty?”
Anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out said it was disappointed but not surprised with the sport’s governing body’s relaxed approach to combating racism.
“While we welcome FIFA’s commitment to the implementation of the three-step protocol at the tournament, it is laughable to suggest it has done enough to deter discriminatory behaviour up to this point,” the organisation said in a statement.
“The racial abuse of French national team players by Russian supporters just three months ago is clear evidence of that,” it added.
Russia has promised to crack down on racism ahead of the World Cup, which will be held from 14 June to 15 July.
The squad travelled to Russia in style in a luxury jet, a ‘recently refurbished’ Greek-registered Boeing B757-23N, offering its passengers “maximum comfort, convenience, and safety”, according to the plane’s owners.
Raheem Sterling was one of several players who took advantage of the on board Wi-fi, posting a selfie with Dele Ali after take-off.
The Three Lions appeared in good spirits as they touched down.
A tweet from the team’s official account pictured Southgate on his way down the steps from the plane, with the caption: “Touchdown. #threelions”
Defender Kyle Walker posted a video on Instagram showing various players’ heads pasted on the bodies of Cossack dancers playing keepy-uppy.
It read: “Only been here 2 mins but man this culture is contagious!”
Russia play Saudi Arabia in the opening match on Thursday.