One of the first agendas of the new FIFA President Gianni Infantino was to visit Russia, the host nation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Infantino met the Russian president Vladimir Putin in April 2016 and the two leaders held discussions on not just the 2018 World Cup but also about another FIFA event, the 2017 Confederations Cup. Earlier, Infantino had gone to Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow that will serve as the most important venue for the 2018 World Cup. The FIFA president was happy with the progress of preparations for World Cup and commended Russia’s highest authorities for their staunch commitment to the two major football events in 2017 and 2018.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino began his Russian visit with a peek at Moscow’s famous Luzhniki stadium that will host 2018 World Cup’s opening game and the tournament final. Throughout the World Cup, Luzhniki will also house the offices of FIFA. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin was Infantino’s escort, when the FIFA boss set foot on the iconic 81,000 capacity stadium. Luzhniki was the main stadium during 1980 Olympic Games and also hosted 2008 UEFA Champions League final. Infantino saw the ongoing renovations and major rebuild of the stadium and felt happy with the progress of work. Before his visit to Russia, Infantino had told Russian News Agency Tass in Zurich that he was confident about Russia hosting the best World Cup ever. He said his impressions were based on the information that Russia was working very hard with massive preparations, far ahead of the tournament.
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium was built in 1956 soon after USSR athletes produced a scintillating performance in 1952 Helsinki Olympics, where Soviet Union had made their Olympic debut. They finished second with 71 medals behind USA’s 76. The government felt the need for a permanent venue, where Russian athletes could train and practice with a view to further improving their sporting skills. On government orders, Soviet architects and construction workers doubled over to erect the new stadium in less than 1½ years. Now the Luzhniki is getting ready for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and extensive construction work is in full swing. The stadium is located in a picturesque area of Sparrow Hills and close proximity to Moscow State University’s main building.
After December 2, 2010, when FIFA awarded staging of 2018 World Cup to Russia, plans to renovate the Luzhniki stadium were discussed. It took about 8 months for the final approval of Luzhniki’s remodeling-plan as required by FIFA. Some people suggested that old stadium should be pulled down entirely and a brand new structure should be built in its place. Though this was a cheaper option, the other suggestion of conserving the historical facades and modernizing only the inside was finally approved. The argument had more weightage since the Luzhniki Stadium was viewed as a historic architectural symbol of sports not only for Moscow but for all of Russia. The stadium is one of Moscow’s most familiar skylines viewed from the Vorobyovy Hills. Therefore, the revamp work was based on preserving the stadium’s historic look. The author and his Indian friend Sudhakaran Nair were witness to the Luzhniki grandeur in the summer of 1999 while watching home-side CSKA Moscow’s Russian League game against FC Lokomotiv.
The Luzhniki revamp is one of the world’s most prestigious projects, comparable to anything similar around the globe. Authorities have promised that despite budget constraints, new Luzhniki will come outfitted with super-sophisticated equipment, unrivalled anywhere in the world. The football field will have a natural grass covering and new systems will be installed for drainage, heating, watering, agricultural monitoring, automation and centralized control. With advanced draining and subsoil airing, it will take less than 30 minutes to restore the field to playing conditions, even after the worst shower. The stadium will continue to be suitable for music concerts and other shows in addition to sports events in line with London’s Wembley Arena. Authorities are already in talks with a major global operator for the use of the stadium after the 2018 World Cup.