Main engineer of the stadium arrested over supposed corruption just a week ago. And now it turns out the fire safety system hasn't been operational since before the 2018 World Cup! It was serviced manually during the FIFA tournament.
The global media spotlight has long left Russia, meanwhile fascinating (and disturbing) facts surface around the 2018 World Cup venues. We've covered some of the issues in Kaliningrad, now potentially important issues arise with the Nizhny Novgorod stadium.
Just a week ago chief engineer of the stadium, Artyom Ponomarev, was arrested by security forces on suspicion of corrupt action with subcontractors. Details of the case have so far been scarce.
Today Russia's leading newspaper Kommersant has revealed that the stadium hasn't had a fully operational fire safety system since its very opening. This was revealed during a mid-2019 fire safety inspection. All sides are pointing fingers but the fact remains: extinguishing, alarms and evacuation doors have never worked automatically, as they should have.
It really begs the question, how come we're all finding out about this two years after a global tournament with over 250,000 tickets sold at this very stadium? The amount expected for necessary repairs is RUB 300 million ($3.9m) and it's expected the stadium will finally be compliant in mid-2021. But how did it come to this? It depends who you'd ask...
The ministry blames everybody
We don't mean the Russian federal sports ministry, rather the Nizhny Novgorod regional sports ministry. They've taken over management of the stadium in 2020, following an interim period of management by Sport In, the federal subsidiary for delivery of all World Cup stadia.
The ministry sees the issues as complex and long-standing. They consider errors to be made already at the design stage, by PI Arena, but also during construction, by Stroytransgaz. And, since Sport In was in charge of the project, responsibility would also fall on the governmental company.
The sole fact that to this day the stadium is badly flawed, should be alarming. After all, already past the World Cup there were additional repair works carried out by Stroytransgaz to the tune of RUB 2.5 billion ($32.5m). That's how much was paid throughout 2019. Back then it was still federal funding, not regional.
Sport In blames new legislation
The federal subsidiary is currently in liquidation, having delivered its task of preparing tournament venues. According to Sport In, the issue may lie with timing of the 2019 inspection. The company believes the stadium was fully compliant in 2018 but legislation has since changed and thus the irregularities.
That explanation certainly doesn't address all concerns, many of which would have been a major issue in 2018, too. But, in defense of Sport In, the stadium was successfully approved by all emergency services and construction supervision, so they're safe in claiming it was ok.
Servicing contractor blames chaos, missed deadlines and rush
The most interesting story comes from Vindell, llc. The company was hired in 2018, when the stadium was nearing completion and the original fire safety system contractor had left the site over unpaid wages. Since then, Vindell was responsible for maintenance and operation of the systems, only to be sacked in mid-2019, following an unexplained fire alarm. Vindell was even fined, though with a modest amount. Let's now let director Viktor Burkalenko explain his point of view.
“I worked at Kazan Arena, we had experience. In 2018, when all the deadlines before the games were missed at the Nizhny Novgorod stadium, we were invited, since no one else dared to take up maintenance. All other contractors were afraid. The 2018 World Cup was held in manual mode without complaints from us, with a lot of energy and nerves wasted. We were responsible for fire safety at the Nizhny Novgorod stadium and arena in Saransk. With the FIFA organizing committee, during matches in the stadium, for example, doors with automatic drives were simply broken in case of fire, and then they were never restored. The Ministry of Emergency Situations inspection blames these doors on me. But why should I answer for this, as well as for the fact that the sensors were not mounted according to the project? It was not us who mounted them, we are the service company! All questions should be addressed to Sport-In and Stroytrangaz.” Burkalenko says.