A stroke from above seems to be the only thing that can save the troubled St. Petersburg stadium now, ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
With the stadium mired by corruption, delays, and mistakes, officials in St. Petersburg reportedly held a pitchside vigil with 20 priests a few months ago, hoping for some kind of spark. Russians “always turn to God in times of trouble,” said a city official, according to a report by the Financial Times on Friday.
The stadium has seen financial troubles for over a year now, but things truly began to get ugly when a FIFA inspector jumped on the retractable pitch a month ago and determined it vibrated too much for safe play. With a leaky roof also causing problems, plus new issues with air quality and the ongoing concerns for worker safety, the state-of-the-art facility is looking more and more like a dilapidated waste of money.
In addition, just last week the former deputy governor of St. Petersburg Marat Oganesyan was arrested on charges of corruption stemming from a kickback payment by the subcontractor in charge of the video scoreboard.
Thankfully (or not?), much of the preparation failures have been overshadowed by the horrid on-field performances the national team has put forth in recent months. They’ve hit new lows the last two months, with the once defensively-stout Russians conceding four goals to Costa Rica and two to Qatar in a pair of embarrassing friendly losses. They were bounced from Euro 2016 this past summer with just one point to show for their three matches, losing to Slovakia and Wales following a 1-1 draw with fellow underperformers England.
But the stadium doesn’t have time to sort things out like the national team does. Despite over 18 months until the World Cup kicks off, the St. Petersburg stadium was meant to be ready for its club team Zenit St. Petersburg to play its first match there in April, and the Confederations Cup will send Russia through a test-run next summer.
With those events in mind, officials have set a hard deadline of December 25th to have the entire structure complete before concentrating on in-house amenities that will turn the stadium into what one city official calls “a football palace.” At the moment, it seems more like a blemish than anything.