Richard van Poortvliet: Russian legacy is building at a cost

The view from Sparrow Hills in Moscow is one of the finest in the city. Situated next to the gigantic Moscow State University, the vantage points are stunning. In the immediate vicinity is the Luzhniki complex, including the main stadium, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The stadium was renovated on that occasion to host those games, and 33 years on, Russia’s largest arena will once again undergo a facelift, as soon as this year’s World Athletics Championships come to an end in the middle of August.

The Luzhniki Stadium is to be the centrepiece of the 2018 World Cup, which Russia will hold. However, there have already been a number of hiccups in the initial planning stages and there will be surely more to come. The ground is a vast bowl currently seating just under 80,000, while the exterior is a breath-taking neo classical design featuring over a hundred columns, reaching almost to the stadium’s vast roof.

It is this historical element that has caused the organisational committee and the selected architects the most headaches. In a city that pays little attention to it’s cultural heritage, it is nice to see that steps are being taking to preserve such a fine structure, as is also the case the Dynamo Stadium. There was talk of demolishing the ground or even building a new arena at a different location, but thankfully it seems as though such a plan of action is not going to come to fruition. The acting mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin commented, “Luzhniki is a sacred place, so the stadium will remain in its current location. Of course, it requires serious reconstruction, but we won’t be changing site.”

Although this decision may be aesthetically pleasing, it leaves the architects with quite a job on their hands in order to try and fit a 90,000 seat arena within the confines of the outer façade. This is why the Moscow authorities are now putting forward a plan to FIFA to reduce the capacity by 10,000. In theory this would make some sense, especially in the long term, given that the stadium is rarely even close to being half full, while recent tenants such as Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow, will soon be moving into new arenas of their own.

There are other options, if FIFA reject the proposal, to reduce the stadium’s capacity – such as sinking the playing surface by four to six metres to create more room for seats. In theory this sounds like a decent plan, but it would also create a number of different problems, like having to re-root a network of pipes that run under the pitch.

Questions concerning the capacity of the Luzhniki stadium are not the only problems dogging the Organisational Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, as the cost of hosting the event continues to soar. The original plan was to spend in the region of $21 billion to build stadiums and bring the surrounding infrastructure up to scratch in the 11 host cities. However, with Nizhny Novgorod requesting $9 billion and Rostov $3 billion, this is over half the original budget spent on just two host cities. Also take into account, refurbished Luzhniki stadium will cost in the region of $800 million. Zenit St. Petersburg’s new stadium should have opened in 2008, however an eight year delay will finally see the ground becoming functional in 2016, while the cost has ballooned to a mere $1.4 billion.

It is not all doom and gloom for Russia with the 2018 World Cup just five years away. Kazan in the oil rich region of Tatarstan is way ahead of its fellow host cities. The city recently played host to the Universiade, which saw 13,500 athletes from around the globe competing. The standard of the local infrastructure and the stadia have drawn drawn plaudits from far and wide. The Kazan Arena, which will host matches, was the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies. It is an impressive stadium, with a capacity of just over 50,000, but perhaps most importantly cost under $400 million to build.

There is still along way to go until the biggest footballing event ever to have taken place in Russia gets underway. However, there continue to be a number of issues concerning the stadia and finances, which have to be addressed. As for the Luzhniki Stadium, expect a few more twists, before the final construction plans are unveiled to reconstruct what will be the centerpiece of the 2018 World Cup.

Richard van Poortvliet is a sport presenter and correspondent at Russia Today, based in Moscow.