Putin says 2018 World Cup venues on track despite delays

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that some construction work on the 2018 World Cup stadiums remained behind schedule, but he was satisfied with the overall condition of the venues.

FILE PHOTO - Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass of champagne during a ceremony to receive credentials from foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Pavel Golovkin/Pool

“These delays are not critical, there is nothing terrible there, but as I have always said ... it is the most difficult thing to resolve tasks at a final stage,” Putin said at a meeting with senior sports officials, regional governors and prominent athletes to discuss preparations for next year’s tournament.

“If we relax, we will not fully accomplish the work.”

Moscow has eased visa regulations for foreign soccer fans and pumped billions of dollars into stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure.

Yet while officials were upbeat about the country’s progress in preparing for next year’s tournament, they stressed that much still needed to be done.

Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said preparations to host the 2018 tournament were in full swing but they had not been without difficulties and delays.

Kolobkov said the 45,000-seat World Cup stadium in Samara, which has been plagued with delays over the past year, remained behind schedule.

“There are some delays at different stages of construction at the stadium in Samara,” Kolobkov said, adding that the company building the venue had been fined.

“A timetable for making up for the delays and (a system) for the daily monitoring of the venue’s completion have been established.”

The company building the stadium said in August it was 30 days behind schedule but hoped to make up for lost time and end work on the venue by the end of the year, the initial deadline for its completion.

Russia showcased four of its 12 World Cup venues during this year’s Confederations Cup, a two-week tournament that featured the home country, defending world champions Germany and the champions from FIFA’s regional confederations.

Many of the remaining venues, however, are still under construction and have yet to be tested.

The post-World Cup future of some of the stadiums -- including those in cities that do not have Russian Premier League clubs -- remains under discussion.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the governor of the Kaliningrad region, Anton Alikhanov, asked Putin to ensure that “at least some regions” receive state support to maintain the venues after the tournament.

“For Kaliningrad, where there is no Premier League team for now, handling a 35,000-seat stadium is quite difficult,” Alikhanov said.

Russia is set to host the World Cup from June 14-July 15 in 12 venues spread across 11 cities including Moscow, St Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Maria Kiselyova and Toby Davis