RUS­SIA OUT TO SAVE FACE

Hosts scram­ble to sal­vage ‘state-of-theart pitch’ as Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup looms

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MOSCOW decade-long saga of spi­ralling bills, missed dead­lines and scan­dal sur­round­ing the World Cup in Rus­sia.

“We were sup­posed to re­ceive a fairy­tale sta­dium, the best in the world, in ideal con­di­tion,” op­po­si­tion fire­brand and anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigner Alexei Navalny said in an April video post.

“It was one of Rus­sia’s most im­por­tant con­struc­tion pro­jects, and money was stolen none­the­less.”

Last year 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.

Even be­fore the is­sues with the grass, prob­lems with the sta­dium’s re­tractable pitch made the play­ing sur­face vi­brate and threw doubt on whether it could host games.

Then when of­fi­cials gave the go-ahead for Zenit — even­tu­ally ex­pected to move into the sta­dium — to play games there, even those trial at­tempts had to be aban­doned.

Af­ter just two of three planned games au­thor­i­ties and foot­ball of­fi­cials moved the team’s May 17 match against FC Krasnodar to the club’s old Petro­vsky sta­dium to “save the grass from ex­tra wear.”

In an in­ter­view with RBK busi­ness daily last month, Zenit’s chief agron­o­mist Kon­stantin Kreminsky blamed Ba­mard, a Rus­sian com­pany hired to de­liver the pitch.

Kreminsky said that the pitch had been poorly pre­pared for Saint Peters­burg’s un­for­giv­ing win­ter and that there had been “fun­gal dis­eases” and “a lot of mould” on the grass in late Fe­bru­ary.

A Ba­mard rep­re­sen­ta­tive said the com­pany ful­filled its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions when de­liv­er­ing the pitch in the au­tumn and that Fifa ap­proved it. The prob­lems came later, he said.

“Maybe in the spring there were con­di­tions that didn’t al­low for nor­mal grass to grow,” he said, with­out giv­ing his name.

“Maybe they held matches, train­ing ses­sions... That’s also why is­sues about the field should be brought up with the or­der­ing cus­tomer — and not the con­trac­tor who de­liv­ered the goods.”

The Saint Peters­burg sta­dium is not the only Rus­sian foot­ball venue that has ex­pe­ri­enced prob­lems with its pitch — with much blame heaped on the coun­try’s harsh win­ter.

Manch­ester United boss Jose Mour­inho de­cried the pitch in Ros­tov for their Europa League match against the lo­cal team in March.

“It is hard for me to be­lieve we are go­ing to play on that field — if you can call it a field,” Mour­inho thun­dered.

In re­sponse the Rus­sian Premier League closed the sta­dium un­til the pitch im­proved. It re­opened two weeks later.

Bu­lat Litvi­nov, the com­mer­cial di­rec­tor of the Kazan Arena, an­other World Cup and Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup venue, said that Rus­sia’s in­hos­pitable cli­mate and its do­mes­tic league sched­ule that stretches into the win­ter could be the cul­prits.

“Let’s speak hon­estly. Rus­sia’s cli­mate is not favourable for grow­ing nat­u­ral grass,” Litvi­nov said dur­ing a visit of the Kazan Arena.

“And the Rus­sian Premier League sched­ule is not the most con­ve­nient be­cause there are some­times matches in early De­cem­ber in sub-zero tem­per­a­tures and snow and the first matches start in March.”

Al­though the pitch at the Kazan Arena is now in good con­di­tion, the venue went through five pitches in three years, Rus­sian me­dia re­ported. AFP

AP PIC

St. Peters­burg Sta­dium has been plagued with prob­lems in­clud­ing a bad pitch, spi­ralling bills and missed dead­lines.

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