Russia on track for World Cup 2018, say FIFA inspectors

MOSCOW (Reuters) - FIFA has said it is happy with the progress being made by hosts Russia ahead of the 2018 World Cup after the governing body’s inspection committee carried out its first official visit.

Head of FIFA inspection committee Christian Unger (C) talks to the media as he inspects the Luzhniki Stadium, which is under construction, in Moscow, October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

“As we heard today, everything is going according to plan, which is great news for everyone,” said committee head Chris Unger, whose delegation has visited stadiums in St. Petersburg, Kazan, Sochi and two arenas in Moscow.

Construction work around Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which will host the World Cup final, meant that delegates could only view the arena from the outside.

Work is continuing around the clock at the stadium and its surrounding area, which will provide a tournament hub and FIFA’s main office, to ensure everything is completed in time for the Confederations Cup in 2017.

According to Russia 2018 CEO Alexey Sorokin, the majority of discussions with the FIFA officials have been office-based, with the nine-day inspection due to end on Oct. 23.

He said one of the main topics had been how to “maximize the space around the stadiums”. The remaining three days of the visit would be spent looking at plans for stadiums not yet constructed.

“Everything is going according to plan and on the whole, the FIFA delegation have been pleasantly surprised with what they have seen,” he said.

The committee was impressed with the Kazan Arena, which held the World Student Games in 2013.

“My first impression: this is an excellent venue,” Unger said, before adding that the ‘Fischt’ Arena in Sochi, used for the Winter Olympic Games in February, “needs some adaptation for hosting the World Cup”.

The work in Sochi, however, pails in comparison to that required to get St. Petersburg’s stadium up and running.

The arena in Russia’s second city has been hit by numerous delays and costs have escalated in excess of the 934 million euros(737 million pounds), according to official documents, agreed with FIFA.

Russia’s Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko, said last month that the arena, which will accommodate 68,000 spectators, will be completed by the summer of 2016.

“It is difficult to compare the different stadiums, but then again, this is not what we are looking to do,” Unger said. “We are looking at the progress that is taking place and we hope to see continued improvement when we make our next visit here in six to nine months.”

Sorokin also touched on the behaviour of Russian football fans, who have been involved in a number of unsavoury incidents in recent years that have included racist abuse.

“We are trying to correct all these things,” he said. “This is a problem that is not needed in our country. Just like the rest of the world, we are fighting to get incidents in our stadiums under control and stop people going to matches to cause trouble and hindering those who are wanting to watch football.”

FIFA’s inspection committee will make a total of seven visits to Russia in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup. A date has yet to be set for their next trip.

The 2018 World Cup will involve 12 stadiums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samara, Saransk, Rostov on Don, Sochi, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg.

Reporting By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy; editing by Toby Davis