MOSCOW: The head of Russia’s Premier League is not particularly happy with all the new stadiums the hosts have built for the World Cup.
Russia spared little expense in either completely revamping or building from scratch 12 football-specific arenas for the June 14-July 15 showpiece.
Yet only the one in Saint Peterburg has a retractable roof.
All the others are open to the elements and Premier League chief Sergei Pryadkin is not pleased.
“When we were holding test matches in the new stadiums, I kept asking myself: why didn’t they put roofs on them? This is a question for those who were designing them,” Pryadkin told a press conference.
Pryadkin’s comments marked the most explicit public criticism of Russia’s preparations for its first World Cup to date.
Russian football has suffered for generations from horrible pitches that are either covered in snow during winter or resemble sandpits in the spring and fall.
The northern climate prompted the Soviet Union and then Russia to build indoor arenas with synthetic grass in many of the cities where football is professionally played.
But these are now used solely for training because the Premier League – looking to adopt international standards – only allows games on real grass.
Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko last week suggested lifting the indoor arena ban.
“Why did we build them then?” Mutko asked.
The authorities have tried to get around the problem by shutting down the season for nearly three months in the winter to let all the snow melt.
Yet players complain that this fails to address the issue of pitches not having suitable grass in other times of the year.
Russia is believed to have spent at least US$4 billion (3.4 billion euros) on stadium construction and refurbishment for the World Cup.
The gleaming arenas will then be handed over to the cities’ local football teams in the hopes of reviving attendance and the quality of domestic league play.
Pryadkin said the plan was already starting to pay off.
“Fan attendance is up 22.4 percent this season,” he said.
Nearly 14,000 spectators showed up to an average Russian Premier League match.
But the financial figures still do not add up.
The government admitted in April that it will have to spend around US$200 million on keeping stadiums open in seven of the smaller host cities for the first three to five years.
Pryadkin sounded generally disgruntled with the way the World Cup’s football legacy was shaping up.
“It is good that we now have good arenas, even though they have no roofs,” he said. “When they were building the stadiums, no one asked for our advice.”
He added that the sport’s federation was unlikely to accept the money-spinning idea of resuming beer sales at matches that were banned in 1995.
“I am all in favour of fighting alcoholism, but I don’t see anything wrong with a glass of beer and a hotdog at a game,” he said.--AFP