Venue Abandonment

Last month, we explored the issues that Russia, fighting and suffering under the effects of the sanctions laid upon them, were facing regarding the finances of their national league, the clubs within it and the players they can afford.

Today, we are reminded- again- that there is also a little thing called the World Cup. National sports minister Vitaly Mutko announced on Thursday that the budget for the Cup is to be given a 10% haircut. While specifics don’t appear readily available as to what these cuts mean, it’s probably better to look at this as a 10% cut in what the organizing committee intends to do rather than look at any exact monetary amounts; given the ruble’s continual devaluing, any figure I give now is at risk of being misleading in the very near future.

What 10% of preparation is no longer on the cards doesn’t look to be readily available. What is known, though, is that what they don’t intend to do is cut stadiums. The lineup, as it sits, is a 12-stadium set, as the final announcement dictated in 2012: two in Moscow, along with St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Volgograd, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, Saransk and Rostov-on-Don.

You might bring up the case of Yaroslavl and Krasnodar, the two host cities that missed the final cut. But cities get cut from the process all the time. That happens. That’s just the natural way of things. Not every city that wants World Cup duty can have it. What is far more rare, though, is cities getting cut after they’ve been announced as part of the final slate.

The last post-announcement stadium lineup alteration was actually an addition. In England 1966, the entirety of Group 1 between England, France, Mexico and Uruguay was to take place at Wembley Stadium. However, the game between Uruguay and France took place on the same day as regularly-scheduled greyhound racing, a thing Wembley did at the time, twice a week, and a thing that apparently wasn’t cleared up well before a World Cup held in England. The greyhound people wouldn’t budge, so the Uruguay/France match was packed up and moved to another London venue, White City Stadium, which ironically had been mainly a greyhound venue since 1927. (As the story goes, the soccer got way more spectators than the greyhounds.)

The last time stadiums were actually cut from a World Cup list was Chile 1962. On May 22, 1960, Chile was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, an offshore 9.5 that became known as the Valdivia earthquake, after the most-affected city. To put that in perspective, Valdivia accounted for over 20% of the global seismic release from every single quake in the 100-year period from 1906-2005, and about twice the release of the Boxing Day quake of 2004. Accounts differ on how many people it killed. Perhaps it’s about 2,200. Perhaps it’s about 6,000. We’ll never know for sure. Southern Chile, being made up chiefly of the west slope of the Andes, suffered numerous tsunamis, landslides, floods, and even a volcanic eruption triggered by the quake.

Valdivia was set to be one of the host cities. That quickly went straight out the window, and they weren’t alone. Eight cities were originally on the 1962 list: Valdivia, Santiago, Arica, Concepion, Viña del Mar, Talcahuano, Rancagua and Talca. Everything except Santiago was thrown into upheaval: Valdivia, Concepion, Talca and Talcahuano were cut, Vina del Mar and Arica had to rebuild their stadiums, and Rancagua, by the blessing of the Braden Copper Company- an American company that owned the stadium- only stayed in after Antofagasta and Valparaiso said they wouldn’t be able to host either.

The only other time a planned venue went unused was in France 1938. The World Cup that year took the form of a 16-team single-elimination bracket, and 11 different venues were scheduled to host games. One of these was Stade Gerland in Lyon, but they never got the chance. It wasn’t because of anything they did or that France did. It was because their sole scheduled match was a first-rounder between Sweden and Austria. The draw took place on March 5; the match was scheduled for June 5. Ten days after the draw, the Nazis marched into Vienna, and Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss the same day. Austria ceased to exist, and its players- those that would consent to it, at least, and Austrian star Matthias Sindelar did not– were absorbed into the German squad that was to play Switzerland in Paris one day earlier. With no Austria, there could be no match. (Sindelar was found dead in his apartment seven months after the Cup.)

As you can see, the two previous removals have been due to events wildly out of the host nation’s control. Chile dealt with the largest earthquake ever recorded. France dealt with Hitler indirectly, before they had to deal with him directly.

There is one other cut that looks ready to happen in addition to these, but it’s not Russia. It’s Qatar. The list that Qatar presented showed 12 stadiums. Last April, citing cost overruns, they declared their intent to cut that either 8 or 9. The stadiums to be cut have not yet been announced, but the cut stands to be the first self-inflicted stadium removal in World Cup history. It’s one more black eye in a hosting gig filled to bursting with them.

Russia has already had to downsize the Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg stadiums, and FIFA will not permit them to downsize any further. They do not intend to cut a stadium entirely and join a list that looks like the one above. But if the sanctions imposed over Crimea, over Ukraine, take any stronger of a toll, you can’t really say that the cuts won’t also be self-inflicted.

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