Moscow (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin firmly told regional leaders Thursday not to turn World Cup arenas into flea markets once the football showpiece wraps up next month.
Space around stadiums such as Moscow’s Luzhniki became bustling hubs that sold everything from fruit to clothes during Russia’s post-Soviet economic crisis in the 1990s.
The money helped pay for the land — but also fed unregulated and crime-driven trade.
The authorities tore them down once growth picked up and Moscow acquired Western-style shopping centres.
The one in Luzhniki only closed its doors in 2011.
Putin told an annual televised phone-in that the World Cup kicking off next Thursday must leave a lasting sports legacy in which the new arenas play an integral part.
“I want to address colleagues from the regions — no matter what, you cannot allow these venues to suddenly turn into some sort of markets like those in the mid 1990s,” Putin said.
“That is categorically inadmissable.”
Russia has spent at least $4 billion (3.4 billion euros) either building or refurbishing 12 arenas in 11 host cities for the month-long celebration of the world’s most popular sport.
FIFA boss Giovanni Infantino said in a statement issued by the world football governing body on Wednesday that Russia was “100 percent ready” as hosts.
“The whole world will see what a hospitable country Russia is, how well everything is organised,” said Infantino.
But the World Cup’s entire budget adds up to more than $13 billion and FIFA is keen to see the investment pay dividends for Russia that make other nations want to stage future tournaments.
The question of what happens to the huge arenas after the July 15 final has been hounding Russia since it won the hosting rights over England in 2010.
Host city Sochi did not even have a football club until a second division side was moved there this week.
Others are home to teams that have not played top flight football for years and draw just a few thousand people on the best of days.
The head of Russia’s Premier League has also questioned why organisers decided against fitting the arenas with roofs that make watching games more inviting for fans in colder northern cities.
– ‘Children’s sport’ –
“We spent a lot of money and we need to make sure that all this infrastructure works first and foremost for the development of sport,” said Putin.
“And it has to be popular sport, children’s sport. We have to create children’s and youth teams, leagues and organised competitions.”
Putin also stressed that the stadiums have to become “self-sufficient”.
Russia had earlier earmarked $190 million to help pay for the their operations over the coming five years.
Putin’s plan for using as little of that money as possible included using the space inside the arenas for retail.
“A modern stadium is not just a football pitch,” he said.
“You can put anything you want there. You can install stores, cafes, restaurants … and special gyms,” said Putin.
“Much will depend on regional leaders.”