The Russian Premier League turns to indoor arenas

How do you solve a problem like the weather? It’s the million dollar question that Russian football has asked itself countless times and one that is unlikely to remain answered any time soon. However, somewhat radical, suggestions have been put forward by the Russian Premier League’s President who seeks to kill two birds with one stone – the eradication of the hazardous winter weather and the enticement of more and more spectators to domestic football matches.

Watching football in snowy sub minus temperatures would be a trial for even the most hardened of fans and it’s not something that anyone associated with the game views as being for the greater good. However with the Russian football season undertaking a new westernised footballing calendar it would seem that football fans are going to have to get used to seeing their teams feature further into the winter months than ever before.

However Sergei Pryadkin’s recent comments spell out a radical reform which could well revolutionise the manner in which football is perceived within Russia – and potentially beyond. It has been put forward by the RPL President that it could be feasible for clubs to utilise multi-purpose arenas during the months where the weather makes it virtually impossible to ensure the safety of all involved within the game. This would mean that indoor arenas would ultimately replace the under developed stadia that currently exists throughout the Premier League.

Pryadkin used both Moscow and St Petersburg as prime examples for how such a system could well help aid the progression of football within Russia during the winter. ‘The point is that these complexes could hold football matches, provided that they have no scheduled events. It may be possible to use them for league matches in the spring of 2012 – especially in early spring – so the games are played in comfort and with a good number of spectators.’ The growth of sports, like ice hockey for example, which already require significant indoor facilities means that a certain degree of infrastructure already exists to facilitate this movement in various parts of the country.

Moscow’s Olympic Stadium is a prime example of a facility that could well cater for the needs of the city’s power house clubs. It would obviously be difficult to accommodate for 4 teams at any one time however clever scheduling could the idea legs. The Olympic Stadium is a renowned indoor facility that has hosted various important sporting events – particularly in tennis and basketball – and could potentially seat just fewer than 20,000 spectators. This figure is the equivalent of the average number of spectators that the league’s most well attended clubs – Kuban Krasnodar and Zenit St Petersburg – witness for a home fixture.

It is the fact that arenas could potentially provide sufficient seating so that clubs need not worry about lost revenue due to a severe decline in seating availability. St Petersburg’s Sports and Concert Complex is another indoor alternative that could offer relief, under Pryadkin’s initiative, as the arena is already the home of tennis’ St Petersburg Open and holds around 25,000 spectators for such an event.

However while the outlines put forward by Pryadkin do offer a sense of understanding towards the conditions that football clubs face during the harsh winter months there also remains an underlying sentiment that decisions have been made without the sufficient infrastructure being in place.

The lack of first rate stadia across the Russian league system is an issue that will only begin to be solved once the new state of art World Cup venues begin to take shape over the next few years. However Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow’s new homes are not due for until 2013 – far later than initially expected – while the stadium in Kazan continues to resemble a concrete carcass. This leaves another couple of seasons of struggle for Russian clubs as they look to come to terms with the situation that the new calendar has placed upon them.

The football will continue regardless of the weather as Russia remains used to such conditions -particularly in comparison to Western Europe – however the fact that indoor arenas have been sounded out as possible solutions is in itself an issue. The Premier League has been somewhat on the back foot since forcing through proposals to change the footballing calendar away from the summer to the winter and such suggestions seem to merely be attempts to justify the transformations.

Football is rarely suited to indoor atmospheres as has been proven by the nature of grounds that possess retractable roofs. The maintenance of temperatures and conditioning within indoor arenas is a costly and difficult process while the old adage of artificial turf will once again hold weight at a time where Russian football is slowly but surely looking to more natural measures.

It is difficult to assess just how important it will be to utilise indoor arenas after the winter break – which will end in early March – as the worst of the weather conditions will hopefully be behind us. However it will be interesting in the next couple of seasons as – the winter break potentially becomes shorter – the conditions will be more difficult to manage. Should the Premier League take to using indoor arenas then it will surely only serve to highlight the inadequacies that exist within the nation’s game.

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