World Cup 2018: Flies plague England's build-up in Volgograd

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BBC Sports correspondent Natalie Pirks tackles insects in World Cup stadium

Of all the problems England fans and players thought they would face in Russia, a plague of flies was not one of them.

Gareth Southgate's side face Tunisia in their opening World Cup game on Monday (19:00 BST) in the south west city of Volgograd.

Swarms of the small flying insects have caused chaos for fans, locals and the media, while England players will be doused in fly repellent before taking to the pitch at the Volgograd Arena.

"They are on your face, stick to your lips, get inside your nostrils, your ears and your hair," said BBC Sport's Natalie Pirks. "I've had to debug myself at bedtime as you find dead ones you've splatted in the strangest of places."

'There are billions of them'

"If Sunday night at the stadium was anything to go by, these little creatures are going to make it extremely uncomfortable for everyone there," said Radio 5 live commentator John Murray.

"There are billions of them. At one point last night it felt like I had 100,000 in my hair. Fortunately they haven't bitten me at all, it's just their presence that is unpleasant.

"We were warned about many things before coming to Russia, but this was not one of them."

Volgograd Arena
The Volgograd Arena is on the banks of the Volga River, where the flies are coming from

Why is this happening?

It's breeding season.

The stadium is right on the banks of the Volga River where the midges are growing out of the larva stage and turning into adults, leaving the water en masse and flying around the city to mate.

Entomologist professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire believes they are non-biting midges, known as chironomidae, though he thinks there could be some mosquitoes thrown into the mix as well.

"It's a regular occurrence and just bad timing with a World Cup on", said the insect expert Hart. "The good news is they don't last long.

"It is a hassle rather than a big problem."

Organisers said the flies are a "typical phenomenon for Volgograd in June due to the local climate" and claim the "insignificant amount of flying insects will not disrupt any of the scheduled events in Volgograd".

What's being done?

There are four group games in Volgograd and organisers have been spraying the city with insecticide.

"Preventive measures have helped reduce the number of insects to lower level," the Volgograd media office said.

The area around the stadium, the fan festival zone and "other heavily trafficked venues" have been treated with repellents, which they say are safe for humans and animals.

Not that it is doing much good.

Hart says trying to spray an entire city is like "fighting a losing battle", adding that authorities can not spray a stadium of fans.

"It has made little difference to the swarms," said Pirks. "Officials say the problem has been getting steadily worse."

Vanilla essence and towels - the ways to cope

Fans are allowed to take repellent spray into the fan zone, but Pirks says they are redundant. However, the locals have given her a few tricks to cope.

"They swear by vanilla essence and the security guards have extra strength aerosols to nuke them," said Pirks. "Pitch-side is the worst, with no wind to blow them off course.

"The Football Association says the team doctor is aware and all players will be covered in repellent before taking to the pitch but they are a huge distraction and the goalkeepers in particular could be affected if they're standing still for long periods."

And then there is Murray's unique idea.

"Our plan is to take some towels from the hotel to wear over our heads, but I am concerned about swallowing some while I am commentating," he said.

'I hope England play with as much bite'

Members of the media have been sharing their experiences on Twitter.

Danny Armstrong: Currently being munched to death by midges in Volgograd. If England play with as much bite, they may be in with a chance tonight. An absolute angel of a waitress in the cafe where I am sat has just sprayed me with anti-midgie spray and I almost asked for her hand in marriage.

Andy Walker: Matchday stroll in Volgograd. The sun is out, spirits are high and the midges are relentless.

Dan Howells: I've decided my first novel will be called The Midges Of Volgograd.

Sal Ahmad: Not looking for sympathy but the midges are loving a taste of me in Volgograd! Quick detour to chemist to get some spray.

Barney Ronay: I don't know the exact origin of the phrase 'there's no flies on you'. But I think we can rule out Volgograd

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