In September 2014 the Kaliningrad Stadium was one of two stadiums that saw its planned capacity reduced from 45,000 to 35,000 due to budget concerns. Furthermore, the initial plans for the stadium had to be downgraded and the new design was made to look much more modest in order to save money—one of the features that was removed was the arena’s retractable roof.
Kaliningrad’s stadium project has been long overshadowed by various problems; indeed the city has failed to even begin construction at the location on Oktyabrsky Island.
According to BBC Russia Sport Minister Vitaly Mutko has been opposed to the construction of a new stadium, and in August 2014 he instead proposed to have Baltika Kaliningrad’s existing stadium, which is located close to the city centre renovated and expanded. But Kaliningrad’s regional government argued that the stadium, which was built in 1892, is a cultural heritage site and also that construction would block the city centre.
Then in November 2014 Mutko issued a warning that Kaliningrad could lose the right to host World Cup if the city did not progress with World Cup plans. Then in August 2015 construction begun at the new side, but was immediately halted. In September 2015 work resumed but has once again stalled as the stadium plan failed an examination by FIFA.
Then on Tuesday the organization committee of Russia 2018 held a meeting with FIFA to update them on the current state of World Cup preparations in the country. The 2017 Confederation Cup—the traditional dress rehearsal of the World Cup—will take place in less than 700 days, and Acting General Secretary of FIFA Markus Kuttner told Sport Express that 2015 “was a crucial year for Russia’s World Cup preparations, and that there is still a lot of work especially in terms of infrastructure.”
Mutko, however, noted that the meeting with FIFA went well “and that in 2016 our key objective will be to prepare for the Confederations Cup. We talked frankly about infrastructure problems, and FIFA noted that there are concerns about Kaliningrad especially.”
Kaliningrad has in many ways been the weakest link in Russia’s World Cup plan. Kaliningrad is geographically isolated from the Russian mainland as the city is part of the Kaliningrad oblast, which is awkwardly situated between Poland and Lithuania, and Moscow has always found it difficult to maintain political control over the local government.
The World Cup preparations seem to be no exception as Kaliningrad’s World Cup committee according to Mutko had “commissioned a project that did not pass examination. In the end we had to intervene, and replace the contractor of the project. We hope that the new contractor’s plan will pass the examination by Friday, and that we can move forward with the project within the next two weeks.”
Yet the future of Kaliningrad’s World Cup stadium on the Oktyabrsky Island remains very much in doubt as the city is also required to make changes to the transportation infrastructure, and while Kaliningrad’s Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Rolbinov has stated that “thanks to the help of the federal fund the project will go ahead in 2016” there are still doubts over whether Kaliningrad can make the necessary infrastructure adjustments in order to meet FIFA standards.
Finally there is the question about what will happen with the Kaliningrad Stadium after the 2018 World Cup. Baltika Kaliningrad are currently in Russia’s second division the Football National League, and have not appeared in the Russian Football Premier League since 1998, raising questions about whether Kaliningrad needs a new modern football stadium at all.
Image via TheMoscowTimes.com