World Cup 2018: how Russia’s stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part two

In part one of this review I looked at the World Cup 2018 stadiums in Moscow, Kaliningrad and Sochi. Things look good in Moscow and on target in Sochi, but Kaliningrad might yet find itself being forced out of the running – along with one of the venues below.

Part two looks at four more cities with mixed progress:

Zenit Arena, St. Petersburg


The picture above was taken in 2012, but you might barely notice the difference if you visited the Zenit Arena now. The Kirov Stadium, previously on this site, was demolished in 2006 ready for the new arena to be completed in 2008. The many delays in building work have incurred the wrath of many, including Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev. Initially a project funded by Gazprom, the city authorities had to step in when the gas giant declined to invest further. Work should be completed by 2016.

Is it really needed?

The stadium will have a capacity of almost 70,000, which matches super-rich Zenit’s ambitions – and a city the size of St. Petersburg (almost five million inhabitants). Currently Zenit play at the 21000 capacity Petrovskiy Stadium, and it can be difficult to get tickets for the bigger league and European matches. The location of the stadium, in a park and on a peninsular sticking out into the Gulf of Finland, promises to make it a landmark.

Levberdon Arena, Rostov-On-Don


A project costing an estimated 15 billion rouble (£250 million), the stadium gets its working name from its location – in Russian ‘Levberdon’ is an acronym meaning ‘left bank of the Don’. One of several stadiums where building work is yet to start, it should be completed by May 2017. During preparatory excavation work, five unexploded and well-preserved shells from World War 2 were discovered and had to be removed.

Is it really needed?

Following the tournament the capacity will be reduced to around 25,000, which seems sensible. The biggest city football club, FC Rostov, is a top-flight regular but does not draw large crowds. Another city stadium is currently being renovated and it too will have a 25,000 capacity on completion. With the city’s second club skirting between the borders of amateur and professional football, two sizeable stadiums are probably not needed.

Victory Stadium, Volgograd


The name of this yet to be started project comes from the huge role Volgograd played in the Second World War. Above is Volgograd’s Central Stadium, which will be demolished to make way for the new arena. Entirely funded from the federal budget, the Victory Stadium is at risk of never seeing the light of day. The project has only just been approved, meaning the current stadium is still standing and won’t have been demolished until the end of 2014.

Is it really needed?

As well as being a city of historic significance, Volgograd has footballing pedigree. In the nineties Rotor regularly challenged Spartak Moscow for the title, and famously beat Manchester United in a UEFA Cup tie. However, the club have since had considerable problems, including being excluded from professional football altogether in 2009. Currently they are in the third tier, have no money for kit and are dining in a local canteen to save money.

Jubilee Stadium, Saransk


The Jubilee Stadium was supposed to be completed in 2012 to celebrate 1000 years of unity between the Mordvins and Russians, but has fallen behind schedule. It should be ready by 2017, and will be used for knockout as well as group games. The stadium’s capacity will be reduced post World Cup from 45,000 to 28,000, and it is hoped many will be attracted to its other sports facilities (volleyball, basketball) and shops.

Is it really needed?

Of all the cities selected to be a host city, Saransk was the biggest surprise. 2012-13 was FC Mordovia Saransk’s first ever season in the top flight, and they were immediately relegated. Now back in the top flight and managed by former Russia coach Yuriy Semin, it is hoped the club will be a steady top-flight presence by 2018. A recent home game against champions CSKA Moscow attracted just 11,000 spectators.

Coming up in part three – read about one complete stadium, some that are far from completion and some that are completed and look sparkling but won’t be hosting any World Cup matches. I’ll try to explain why…

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian football blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope


Picture attributions:

Zenit Arena: “New football stadium construction site in SPB 01″ by Florstein – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Levberdon Arena: «Rostov new WC2018 Stadium». С сайта Википедия –

Central Stadium Volgograd: «Central Stadium (Volgograd)» участника Cryonic07 – собственная работа. Под лицензией Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 с сайта Викисклада –

Jubilee Stadium Saransk: «Стадион Юбилейный в Саранске 1». С сайта Википедия –

World Cup 2018: how Russia’s host stadiums are shaping up (or not)…part one

At the time of writing, the 2018 World Cup tournament is planned be held in eleven Russian cities and twelve stadiums – though this could change (see Kaliningrad, below). The eleven cities are on the western side of the country, with the furthest east being Ekaterinburg (close to the Ural mountains).

Below is a look at the progress being made with each stadium – and whether they’ll likely be in demand after the tournament.

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow


The host stadium for the 2008 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United has been undergoing renovation since the start of 2014. By 2017 it will have an increased capacity of 81,000. There will also be a grass pitch (the old Luzhniki was renowned for its synthetic surface), and fans will be able to choose (from a choice of three) the colour of the stadium’s seats. Once it has hosted the 2018 World Cup final, it will join an elite group of four (along with Wembley, Olympic Stadium Berlin and Olympic Stadium Rome) to have hosted the World Cup Final, European Cup Final and been a main Olympic venue.

Is it really needed?

Luzhniki is a Moscow landmark – its removal from the landscape would be more or less akin to Wembley disappearing from London. Without it, Moscow would not have a huge stadium. But with three Moscow clubs building new arenas of their own, it will likely be used mainly for international matches, concerts and perhaps Torpedo Moscow games (whose home attendance figures rarely get above four figures).

Otkrytie Arena, Moscow


Spartak Moscow have never had a proper home stadium of their own (the Luzhniki Sports’ Complex served this purpose for many years), but this will change on 5th September when the Otrkytie Arena opens with a friendly match again Crvena Zvezda. The stadium will possibly hold the opening match of the World Cup tournament. It will have a 42,000 capacity, and has been certified in the highest category by the Russian football authorities. Outside there will be a 24.5m statue of a gladiator, and inside another statue of four Spartak legends.

Is it really needed?

Spartak must be one of the biggest clubs in the world to never have had a stadium of their own, so in that sense it’s needed. That the club have built a pretty generic modern stadium but used the statues to keep a link to the past is good news too. However, with CSKA and Dinamo Moscow also building new stadiums, it may be that we quickly go from a situation where there are not enough stadiums in the city to having too many.

Arena Baltika, Kaliningrad

An unusual stadium for a modern one in that it will be located close to the city centre; it is also planned to be a ‘green’ stadium with a roof that harvests rainwater. At the time of writing, though, building work has yet to start and has been postponed several times. In August 2014 reports surfaced suggesting the stadium may not be built at all: in this case, Kaliningrad would be removed from the list of host cities. Key issues appear to be that the project is likely to well exceed its budget, and that it will be built on a difficult terrain (marshland).

Is it really needed?

If it is built, Arena Baltika will have a capacity of 45,000 – this will be reduced to 25,000 at the end of the tournament. A sensible decision given that local side Baltika Kaliningrad are perhaps akin to Barnsley – they’ve spent most of the last twenty years in the second tier, with occasional excursions both up and down. They are one of the best supported sides in the Football National League, however, and will hope that by the time the new stadium opens they are a top flight side again.

Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi


Constructed for no small fee for the 2014 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, the Fisht Stadium is now undergoing considerable renovation to become a football venue. The 45,000 capacity arena will definitely be ready by 2017, when it is a host venue for the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Is it really needed?

Sochi is currently on its third post-Soviet football team, the previous two having been disbanded due to financial problems. There is hope that a local side will become a force in Russian football – but currently the city’s team plays in the third tier. A top quality stadium in a relatively balmy climate and with a bit of history behind it cannot be sniffed at, though. The Russian national team will surely make good use of it, especially in the colder months. Just don’t expect FC Sochi to get anywhere near filling it to capacity.

Coming soon…parts two and three – including a look at one city that has been inexplicably overlooked as a host…

Saul Pope is a Russian/Ukrainian Football Blogger and contributor to When Saturday Comes magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @saulpope.


Picture attributions:

Luzhniki: “Moscow (3)” by Maarten from Netherlands – DSC_0103Uploaded by huhbakker. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Otkrytie Arena: “Moskva spartak stadion”. Via Wikipedia –

Fisht Olympic Stadium: “Стадион Фишт” by Ivanaivanova – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Russian football commentator criticises Chris Samba for reacting to racist abuse

That a black player has been racially abused at a recent Russian league match is not going to surprise many fans. In the below clip, Dinamo Moscow (and former Blackburn and QPR) defender Chris Samba is subjected to monkey chants from Spartak Moscow fans.

These can be heard, admittedly not too clearly, but were audible to both Samba and the match commentator – who criticises the Spartak fans’ behaviour.

Samba sarcastically claps the crowd and gives them a thumbs-up – which is also to the distaste of the commentator. ‘That’s not good,’ he says, ‘both that the Spartak fans behaved as they did towards Samba, and that he reacted to it.’

Samba is moving away from the fans when he gestures to them and is not acting aggressively, but this contained and measured reaction to racist abuse is apparently too much. Presumably the commentator would rather Samba did absolutely nothing – then he could have avoided referring to it at all. The Russian sports press may feel the same – in match reports about the game newspapers refer to Samba’s performance but not this specific incident.

Racism at Russian football matches is, I think, decreasing – I recently attended two recent games in Russia where black players featured for the away teams, but no abuse was directed at these players. No journalist I have had contact with in the country has anything but contempt for racists – there are occasional pieces speaking out against this, and some commentators do the same. Take, for example, this response to Roberto Carlos having a banana thrown at him during another Russian league match:

Carlos himself left the pitch following the incident, and can be heard saying ‘two times’ to the crowd as one of his teammates appears to ask the offender ‘why?’. The commentator asks rhetorically when such abuse will stop, and addresses all Russian fans when talking of the need for racism to be stamped out.

But we need to go beyond a situation where one broadcaster does this but another equates the seriousness of a monkey chant to a player clapping sarcastically at the crowd. Without a drip-drip of contempt for racism – every incident being highlighted and criticised by journalists and broadcasters – we may not get beyond the current position where the racists just about keep quiet for the international and European matches but let loose at league games, whilst bystanders tut-tut and wonder how much of a fine players reacting to abuse will receive.


Saul Pope is a blogger on Russian and Ukrainian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope

My thanks to Russian football fan Serge (@gentoosiast) for pointing me in the direction of this incident.

More on the same topic:

A Brazilian-born player for the Russian national team? The fans’ verdicts

Black players at Zenit? The fans’ views

Russian fans hold the key to eradicating racism in their stadiums

A Brazilian player for the Russian national team? The fans’ verdicts

FC Krasnodar’s Brazilian-born forward Wanderson has recently said in an interview that he would – if the possibility arose – be interested in playing for the Russian national side. A story covered widely by Russia’s sports press, fans commented on it in their hundreds.

Below are selected comments from two popular sources of football news in Russia, and Comments with indents and a dash before them are replies fans gave to the previous comment:


No thanks..can you sign the Russian National Anthem in Russian? Same can be said of the trainer [Fabio Capello].


A great forward, but I’m against this. A naturalised national team is a world team.

   -So we’ll keep on falling flat on our faces at the group stages. Look at the current world champions: Germans, Poles, a Turk etc.


I won’t support the Russian team if, like Switzerland, it has its Xhakas and Seferovichs playing for it. A load of Macedonians and Brazilians support teams like that [as well as fans from that country].


The nationalist-chauvinist census has begun. A worthy player, would suit the national side.


If Wanderson was born and raised in Russia then definitely! But as things are, no!


No need…the [Sochi] Olympics were so shameful with Koreans and America winning medals for us.


Go home…dirty foreign worker.

   – You should be ashamed for humiliating the Russian nation with nationalism and chauvinism! World football is fed by internationalism! Zidane is an Algerian who played for France, and there are lots of such examples. Don’t write such foul things – it’s football and not Nazism!


If at least one of his parents was a Russian citizen, like [Stoke City forward Peter Odemwingie] then yes, but our team isn’t bad – we just need an attack-minded manager.


We don’t need him? Fine – just don’t moan when we don’t get out of the group at World Cup 2018. At Sochi nobody started shouting when a Korean and an American won five golds for us.


Against this:
1. He doesn’t speak fluent Russian
2. He’s 28 (not a youngster)
3. There are other players of the same level
4. We need to develop our own players, and not naturalise average players
5. It’s a road to nowhere


Personally I’m fed up with watching eleven useless millionaires running round the pitch who’ve got themselves comfy and know they’ll be in the side no matter what. Such footballers are an embarrassment to our country, but not a Brazilian who’s taking the decision to swap nationality and play for us. I’m 100% certain he’d at least apologise for mistakes and tear it up on the pitch like a player should do. Generally I’m in favour – it’ll help bring in fresh blood.


Well, yes. We always have our own way of doing things. No European country has a national side made up of players entirely from the ‘title’ nationality, and fans support them. But we are the greatest, and have no equal on the planet in terms of racial purity. Strange for a multi-nationality country.


We don’t need the same ‘happiness’ as they have in France, for example. We have enough multiculturalism in Moscow at Eid al-Adha.


Yes, yes, let’s naturalise players like we did for the Olympics. In fact, why do we need youth academies? We can just hand out passports and not worry.


Russia isn’t only made up of ethnic Russians. As long as there is use then I think let him play. Getting upset because only ethnic Russians should play is a load of rubbish.


You’ve got to be able to support your own people when it comes to the national team. Of course, we could naturalise 25 Brazilians – they might even win something. But it won’t be the Russian national team. Those born and raised here should play, or else those who moved here, learned the language and got citizenship.


Oh, how good was it when Ukrainians like Kanchelskis and Salenko played for us…I don’t understand how these foreigners differ from those…apparently it’s better to be at the same level as Honduras, but with only Russians playing for us.


We need to boldly use the naturalisation process. If someone starts talking about patriotism they’re talking rubbish. Good old Andrey [Arshavin] answered all the questions about that after the loss to Greece in 2012. [Arshavin told fans it was 'their problem' if they were upset by Russia's performance]


Don’t compare those who competed at the Olympics with Wanderson. [speed skater Viktor] Ahn can speak Russian, [snowboarder Vic] Wild has a Russian wife. Wanderson doesn’t have any link to Russia.


I won’t support the national team if it accepts black players.

   – Bravo! That means Russia won’t be threatened with FIFA sanctions for fascist flags or bananas thrown on the pitch, for shameful monkey chants…if tens of morons don’t go to the national team’s games it means thousands of ordinary people will do.


The quantities of positive/negative answers here reflect the figures in a poll Sport Express carried out. In the poll, 42.5% were in favour of Wanderson playing for Russia, 57.5% against.

The usual depressing racially-motivated answers are here (and even more depressingly, they aren’t a tiny minority), but others are against for non-racial reasons. I take two positive notes from these answers. One is the considerable number of fans in favour of the concept, if not the player (the argument that he’s no better than the current players is a fair one in my opinion). Two is a tendency I’ve noticed amongst Russian football fans in recent years – a greater and greater willingness to self-police and speak out against racist comments. Previously comments like this would have more likely just been ignored.

Saul Pope is a blogger on Russian and Ukrainian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter: @saulpope

More on the same topic:

Black players at Zenit? The fans’ views

Russian fans hold the key to eradicating racism in their stadiums

Euromaidan: the views of a Kyiv-based footballer

Belarusian blogger Aleksandr Ivulin recently interviewed countryman and former Arsenal Kyiv player Aleksandr Danilov – who lives in the Ukrainian capital with his family – about life in the city now. The interview is translated below.

Do you feel calm in Kyiv?

Totally. The disorder and all the happenings are only in the city centre. The other areas are living a calm and well-measured life. You don’t feel anything unusual. Of course, a lot of sensation has been created around Euromaidan: everybody is discussing it. People are going to work as usual, though: schools, nurseries, shops and other organisations are working as they always do.

Have you ended up at Euromaidan at any point?

I haven’t been to the protests. I’m trying to sort out things that are more important to me [translator's note: Danilov is currently without a club]. However, I have had to pass through the city centre in my car.

What did you see?

People in helmets and camouflage, broken tiles, burning tyres. The situation doesn’t give you any positive feelings – I don’t even know what to say about it. I’m with the Ukrainian people in the current situation! But let’s not touch on political issues.

OK. Is it possible to drive around the centre of Kyiv normally?

I haven’t been in the city for three days [Danilov recently travelled from Ukraine to Belarus, and was there when the interview took place]. Before that you could get along Kreshchatyk or Grushevsky without any difficulty. However, friends have told me soldiers and the security forces are beginning to block these routes. It’s not easy to get there anymore.

Have you witnessed any disorder in Kyiv?

When I drove past the demonstrators during the daytime everything was calm. Normally they get more active closer to night-time. Fights between civilians and the security forces are frightening.

Do you tell your wife and children to stay at home in the evenings?

I’m not worried – they understand the situation. When I arrived in Belarus my parents – having watched television – were terrified for me. They asked how I could still live there with a war going on. A lot of Belorussians are afraid of going on holiday via Kyiv. They don’t need to be afraid of anything. If you live in the Left Bank area of Kyiv you can’t hear anything at all. I should add that the Ukrainian people are not indifferent to the fate of the nation. Many Kyivans join in the protests, though life in the city hasn’t changed at all. There’s no chaos in Kyiv. The interest in and sensation around Euromaidan has been caused by the media.

Fine, if that’s the case. How do you relate to the fact that the Lobanovsky Stadium has suffered serious damage during the protests?

Euromaidan has mixed everything together: football, politics….though I’m more concerned for those who are fighting for their views, for the will of the people. They are getting injured, risking their health and sometimes their lives. There have been several fatalities during the protests. This is terrible! Streets, stadiums and pavements can all be restored. Nobody is even thinking about this. The cost of their repair is nothing in comparison to human lives.

A Belarusian has died at Euromaidan…

One opinion is that he shouldn’t have gone there. But every person can do whatever he deems necessary. It is every individual’s personal business whether they go to Euromaidan or not. Some believe it is necessary to go and support the Ukrainian people – that’s normal. Some don’t want to do that – they stay home and watch from the sidelines. That’s also normal. I wish it would all end soon. The main thing is that there is no threat to human life. Such trivialities as, for example, the renaming of ‘Berkut’ ice hockey club to ‘Phoenix’, are of little importance.

The protests have lasted for more than two months. Is Ukraine tired from this?

The people are tired from a difficult life and the country’s leadership. Kyiv’s residents are not debating whether they’re tired or not. Ukrainians are fighting for one common cause. They want the government to hear them, for something in the country to finally change. I haven’t once heard someone saying they are sick of standing on Maidan. Now Ukrainians are united. They are helping one another and trying to change their lives for the better.

Do you support Euromaidan?

Everyone has their own view of the situation. I don’t absorb myself in politics. It’s true that I support the people of Ukraine. You could say that I am a part of them. However, I’m not judging the sides in the current conflict.

Russian speakers may be interested in the original interview, which is here

Aleksandr’s blog (also in Russian) can be found here.   

Saul Pope is a blogger on Ukrainian and Russian football and contributor to ‘When Saturday Comes’ magazine. He can be followed on Twitter.