Just like in Brazil, the sheer size of Russia is set to cause logistical challenges for organizers and fans in 2018, with thousands of kilometers separating some host cities. But the successful staging of the Sochi Winter Olympics in February without any major organizational problems has raised Russians’ confidence in producing a high-class tournament.
After the games, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told parliament that Russia would avoid the “Brazilian scenario” of massive construction delays.
Of the 12 stadiums in 11 host cities, two are complete but must be reconfigured to host football. A third, the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, will open in September. The others, including Moscow’s 81,000-capacity Luzhniki where the final will be played, are new projects where construction has either started or will begin this year.
The Russian government insists it will complete the stadiums on time, although Mutko told local media in March that some aspects of the design process “gave cause for disquiet” as deadlines were missed.
“That is a normal working concern,” organizing committee head Alexei Sorokin told the Associated Press. “That does not mean we are lying down calmly and waiting for things to happen. It suggests that we are ... attentive to it.”
Six stadiums still need to go through a design certification process before construction enters full swing.
“All of the projects are being developed pretty much at the same speed, with one or two exceptions,” architect Peter Lavelle of the Populous firm, which designed the Kazan and Sochi stadiums and is working on the Saransk and Rostov-on-Don arenas, told the AP.
But as long as projects remain uncertified, delays are inevitable, warned construction analyst Vitalie Iambla of consultancy firm PMR.
“We will have also stadiums built a few weeks or months before the first whistle of the tournament,” he said, adding that rising building material costs and the ruble’s decline against other currencies over the last year are likely to cause cost overruns.
The government’s model for the new stadiums is the Kazan Arena, which opened on time last year costing around $400 million.
The St. Petersburg stadium, however, is a sign of what can go wrong. The 69,000-capacity arena, which will host a 2018 semifinal, is scheduled to open in 2016, far beyond its one-time finishing date of December 2008. During that time, construction has been marred by delays while costs have soared to $1.1 billion, something Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has labeled “disgraceful.”
But a bigger issue may be fan racism, after incidents in Russian club football in recent years.