Setbacks endure as Russia preps for World Cup

By AFP 25 November 2016

by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber Corruption scandals, extended deadlines and even a wobbly pitch are just a few of the setbacks Russia has faced ahead of the 2018 World Cup, though authorities vow everything will be ready on time.

Putting the final touches on the infrastructure in four host cities — Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi — has become all the more pressing because they will also host the Confederations Cup next year, a dress rehearsal for the 2018 tournament.

President Vladimir Putin this month assured that all stadiums would be built within deadlines and with good quality — a pledge labour disputes and technical problems in recent months could jeopardise.

At Saint Petersburg’s futuristic 68,000-seater stadium, the retractable pitch had been rendered unsuitable for play due to technical issues that made it unstable — just the latest problem to plague the venue, under construction for nearly a decade.

The wobbly pitch, however, is not expected to cause any more delays in the stadium’s construction, which is set to be completed by the end of the year despite delays and the main contractor quitting this summer.

“The issue is that the field rolls into the stadium on an unstable base. It needs to be strengthened,” RIA Novosti quoted Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko as saying this month.

Earlier this month, the former deputy governor of Saint Petersburg, Marat Oganesyan, was arrested over a fraud scheme with a firm that was supposed to provide the stadium with a video scoreboard.

– Airport makeovers –

The government also announced last month that the new stadiums being built in Nizhny Novgorod and Volgograd — which were set to be completed by December 2017 — would not be done until the first quarter of 2018.

Despite many hiccups, Russian officials have remained upbeat about the prospect of hosting a successful World Cup.

“The construction process is difficult and complicated,” Dmitry Svishchev, a member of the parliament’s sports and physical culture committee, told AFP.

“But there have never been any construction projects completed easily and without any setbacks.”

He added that he expected the stadiums and infrastructure to “be beautiful.”

The airports of some host cities are also undergoing makeovers. Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport announced last month that it had invested $865 million into building a new terminal and was expanding its operations ahead of the World Cup.

But Kaliningrad’s Khrabrovo airport, which is being rebuilt ahead of the tournament, is in “terrible condition,” Vedomosti business daily wrote in September.

The firm in charge with the work was sacked in August, Vedomosti reported. The head of Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency announced this month that a new company would finish the work.

In addition to the daunting logistical challenges of hosting a major sporting event at 12 stadiums in 11 cities, Russia is trying to make itself more accessible to the thousands of fans expected to flood the country.

Authorities have pledged to increase English language announcements to help foreign fans make their way to the stadiums.

English announcements on buses and trams servicing main routes in host city Saransk have already been put into place, local authorities said this month.

Moscow police will be taught basic English to “help foreign guests navigate the metro, get to the stadiums and provide them with emergency assistance,” deputy metro police chief Sergei Pishchurkov told RIA Novosti this month.

Authorities have also taken steps to head off fan violence.

Russian supporters were widely blamed for outbreaks of violence that tarnished Euro 2016 in France, notably in Marseille, where they clashed with England fans.

In July President Vladimir Putin approved a law that tightens controls at games and will see the interior ministry publish online a black list of supporters banned from matches.

Interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev told local media that Russia was already working on a system with foreign law enforcement agencies to help identify troublesome fans who could stir unrest in the stands.


© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse


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