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Russia Warms Up for FIFA Tournaments 

  • Daniel Schearf

People watch a light show at the new soccer stadium on Krestovsky Island, which will host some 2018 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup matches, in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 22, 2017. A statue of Sergei Kirov, an early Bolshevik leader, is in the fo

Excitement is building in Russia as it prepares to host the FIFA (International Federation of Association Footballs’) Confederations Cup, June 17 to July 2. The football (soccer) tournament, which Russia is hosting for the first time, is seen as a test for when it hosts the 2018 World Cup games.

“It’s understood, that it is not only the preparation of the teams for the Confederations Cup but the state of stadiums, logistics, the state of all hotels, airports, of everything that has been constructed for it,” said Russian national team Coach Stanislav Cherchesov at a recent practice.

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High costs, corruption

But the construction of one stadium in Saint Petersburg was tainted by the November arrest of a vice-governor for kickbacks from contractors and the disappearance of millions of dollars from the project’s budget. Football magazine Josimar in May reported the use of North Korean forced labor at the stadium. Russian authorities denied any human rights abuses.

The stadium, with a retractable roof and sliding pitch, has cost more than $780 million, and is among the world’s most expensive. If connected transportation construction is included, the cost is well more than $1 billion.

“Its construction cost has grown by several times and it doesn’t correspond to reality,” said kids’ football coach Konstantin Ambrasovskiy at a nearby outdoor pitch. “If you visited some of the European stadiums that cost several times less, you’d immediately see the difference.”

Saint Petersburg authorities blame several changes to the decade-long project to meet FIFA standards and to replace incompetent contractors.

Unlike the seven other new stadiums built for the games, the Saint Petersburg one is not receiving any of the $11 billion in official federal funding, leaving the city’s budget to take the full brunt of the over-spending. Some have questioned whether the stadium’s expensive bells and whistles will be functional for the games.

“I think that the stadium will be ready, but we don’t know what its real condition will be,” said Saint Petersburg resident Nikita Yarovoy. “The Confederations Cup games will be held here, but what poses a question is the real state of the stadium and how they’ll finish its construction.”

“Despite a number of deficiencies of the stadium, I hope that they will finish all necessary works in order to hold the Confederations Cup games,” said another resident, Andrei Begma. “It is a very important event and it must be held at the highest level.”

Mood high for Spartak Moscow

Russian football has struggled, and not just to get onto the world stage. But the mood in Moscow is good after Spartak Moscow, for the first time in 16 years, won Russia’s premier league in May.

“The championship was won and there is positive attitude towards the club. But the most important thing now is the Confederations Cup,” said Spartak Moscow captain Denis Glushakov. On the national team’s goals, he added, “Of course, it is to get to the final game, step by step. We’ll play the first and the second match and only then I may tell you whether we get to the final or not.”

Eight Flags Junior Cup

To generate support for the games in June, and the 2018 World Cup, Khimki, a city in the Moscow region, on May 27 hosted the first international football friendly tournament Eight Flags Junior Cup.

The competition brought together junior teams, with players ages 10 to 12 years old, from the eight countries competing in the Confederations Cup.

“Of course I’ll support our national team and I wish it to move forward as far as possible and win more titles in the future,” said 11-year-old Ranevich Fyodor. “And I’ll have my fingers crossed for it.”

Embassies of the eight countries supported the teams.

“The atmosphere is really warming up,” said Andreas Meitzner, deputy chief of mission for the German Embassy in Moscow. “And, of course it’s a test run for us for the world championship next year. So, we’re actually looking forward, both to the Confederations Cup in June and for the world championship in 2018.”

More than 2,000 Germans want to come to Russia to see the Confederations Cup games, Meitzner said.

The Confederations Cup will test not only the teams but the organizers and the cities themselves to see how well Russia can handle next year’s World Cup.

“Well, the Confederations Cup will show how prepared we are for it,” said Russian Junior Team coach Kechin Valery. “I hope that our team will be at its best with the support of its fans and it will try its best.”

Olga Pavlova and Ricardo Marquina Montañana contributed to this report.

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