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Russia builds inside-out arena for World Cup

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The Yekaterinburg Arena football stadium being renovated for the 2018 World Cup including two temporary stands on empty plots of land at each goal end of the stadium’s facade © AFP/File / Mladen ANTONOV

MOSCOW, Russian Federation, Nov 28 – Football fans visiting Yekaterinburg in the Russian Urals for the 2018 World Cup are going to find out first hand what it feels to be on the outside looking.

Because the area was originally too small to fit FIFA rules, officials built two temporary stands on empty plots of land nextdoor.

Openings at each goal end of the stadium’s facade offer a remote view of the pitch but no protection from the sun or rain.

And those unlucky enough to only get tickets for the extensions’ upper-most rows will stare out directly at the outer edge of the refurbished Yekaterinburg Arena’s circular roof.

The UK’s perplexed Guardian newspaper suggested the entire ensemble might have come from “outer space” while USA Today screamed that it “couldn’t look any scarier”.

All of which has left the construction company behind the 42-metre-tall (138-foot-tall) extensions sounding somewhat bemused.

Two temporary stands on land next to the Yekaterinburg Arena football stadium for the 2018 World Cup will allow fans to peer through the open facade at each goal end but with no protection from sun or rain © AFP/File / Mladen ANTONOV

“This is a typical solution for sport facilities built for major international competitions,” Sinara-Development Director General Timur Ufimtsev told AFP.

“In addition, you can see a beautiful panoramic view of Yekaterinburg itself since the stadium is in a central part of the city.”

He added that the whole seating section is protected by “tall railings” to make sure no one falls off.

The additions will make Yekaterinburg Arena into a 35,000-seater that will shrink back down in size to 23,000 once the stands are dismantled when all the tourists go home.

– Cultural heritage site –

The world media’s sceptical gaze fell on the 60-year-old stadium once it was selected as the eastern-most venue of the 12 hosting the marquee June 14-July 15 event.

The Kremlin wanted to show off Russia’s cultural diversity and settled on Yekaterinburg — the mining capital of the tsars in which the late president Boris Yeltsin built his career.

The unassuming industrial home to almost 1.5 million people has a team that played middling football in the Soviet era and most recently won promotion to the Russian Premier League in 2013.

It is safe to say that its 27,000-seat stadium suited the needs of a club that has gone through many incarnations and is currently called simply Ural.

Yet its size fell just short of FIFA’s carefully spelled out “minimum capacities of 30,000” requirement for stadiums hosting group stage World Cup matches.

Four were scheduled for Yekaterinburg and Russia had a problem.

Sinara-Development said it also could not simply rebuild the entire arena because it was listed as a cultural heritage site that needed to be preserved in its original form.

Football’s world governing body not only agreed but applauded the unique way Yekaterinburg worked its way out of a potential mess.

Workers climb on the metal structure of the Yekaterinburg Arena where some fans visiting for the 2018 World Cup are going to get an unusual view of the game © AFP/File / Mladen ANTONOV

“Temporary seats are being installed in order to ensure that the renovation work would conserve the historical facade of the stadium and that maintenance costs are reduced after the World Cup,” a FIFA spokesman told AFP.

The old stadium’s entrance featured six columns topped by sculptures of communist factory workers and athletes.

These will stay in place for posterity’s sake.

The FIFA spokesman also brushed aside any safety concerns.

“Inspection visits and detailed reports have shown that the temporary seats in the Yekaterinburg Arena fully comply with all safety and security requirements,” he said.

Ufimtsev said the stadium was “90 percent ready” and would be completed by the end of the year.

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