Tuesday, July 04, 2006

From Russia with Love...

By contrast to the peaceful calm of Cologne, the streets of Moscow on June 28th were a flood of cars straining to move ahead with heavy feet on the brakes making sure they didn't lurch out of control. The ride from Sheremetyevo Airport left doubt whether we would make our first appointment on time at Dynamo Stadium in downtown Moscow.

There were great sights on the way, and the time seemed to melt with endless visions of the new Moscow - exciting and vibrant. A city that was once gray was now lit in neon... advertising movies, theater, museums, culture and cellular phones... yes, plenty of cell phones.

The Moscow Marriott Royal Aurora is located right in the middle of the downtown area of Moscow. It is a lovely hotel with great European service. Unlike my previous visit, in -32C temperature, today it was +32C and Moscow had a totally different feel and look than the last time in early February.

The purpose of the Moscow interlude from the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany was to inspect the stadiums that will be used in the upcoming FIFA Women's U20 Championship being held in Russia (August 17th through September 3rd) in St. Petersburg and Moscow (with 4 different stadiums in the Moscow region). While earlier visits had been made and work orders prepared by the LOC to the specifications of FIFA's requirements, the orderly process of making sure that all would be ready for the opening had to go on, even if that meant interrupting the personal schedules of officials at the World Cup in Germany.

At each site, we had a complement of people from the stadium facility, venue committee, local organizing committee, Russian Football Federation and Sports Authority, together with members under my Chairmanship from the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women's World Cups.

After checking into the Marriott Hotel and a short ride later, I arrived at the Dynamo Stadium on time, much to my surprise. This downtown location is full of history, but is among the oldest facilities. Nonetheless, the stadium manager had performed magic in converting the resources available for the renovation into good clean functional facilities which would be ready for use in August.

Torpedo Stadium was next. Here too we found that many of the items on the list could be checked off, while little things left themselves to be sorted out and improved. This indeed was why we were there. What was unquestionable was the totally willingness of the Federation and the local stadiums to comply with our wishes. Although, sometimes difficult for them to understand, since there are many differences between running local club matches and international championship double-headers.

Then it was back in the van and off to the hotel to conclude a day which began at 0400 hours in Cologne. Nonetheless, the work continued as Iñaki Alvarez, FIFA Staff Member coordinating the Championship was on the phone back to the office in Zurich. He update them of our findings and listed the topics needing follow up during his next July visit. Looking on was Alexey Spirin of our Committee and a historic name in Russian football and administration.

The morning found us traveling an hour and a half into suburban Moscow and the Podmoskovie Stadium. This is a delightful, small complex with an extensive indoor arena and good club facilities. The decision to use this venue enabled them to make a real investment to upgrade their stadium, VIP and Press facilities. It was very satisfying to see the benefits of the work underway.

Even the administration buildings were being renovated and outfitted to accommodate the additional needs of 4 dressing rooms required by double headers. Each venue also had to provide office space for the LOC and the FIFA staff, Referees, Youth Program, Marketing, Assessors and Commissioners. The expanded press facilities in most cases were also a major hurdle to pass. Camera positions were less of a problem, since televising from these facilities was a fairly normal activity for the host broadcaster.

Back in from the countryside and a visit to the big bear of a stadium, Lokomotiv. This modern facility will be used only for the Semi-Final and Final. Even here, a full inspection from the field to the dressing rooms was made and with Iñaki's insight and Spirin's local pressure, we are confident that this train will be turned in the right direction for the finals in Moscow.

We are all looking forward to our final visit in August to these Moscow venues and the Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, when we arrive with the teams of Brazil, New Zealand and Australia in Group A with Russia; and China, Finland, Nigeria and Canada comprising Group B; while Switzerland, Mexico, Korea DPR and Germany make up Group C; and finally Congo DR, France, USA and Argentina will be the final quartet Group D.

Another 0400 hours wake up call and it was on the way to airport. A travelers note: At 0530 hours, it takes only a small fraction of the time to get there, as compared with frenetic daytime traffic schedule. Berlin was a short 3 hours away, and as I landed the familiar anticipation of game day was here. Germany would face Argentina later that afternoon and Germany would once again be smiling.

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