The Bizarre Story of Ekaterinburg

Ekaterinburg. 
A city that parts of it look as they had been stopped in 1953, and parts as if they had come from the future. This is probably one of the oddest cities Baba has been to, with one of the oddest stadiums where the World Cup games were played.

 A mix between old & new, between Asia & Europe. Ekaterinburg (Photo: Uri Levy)

A mix between old & new, between Asia & Europe. Ekaterinburg (Photo: Uri Levy)

Ekaterinburg is the fourth largest city in Russia, with a population of 1.4 million inhabitants.
It sits on the Iset River at the heart of a ridge that divides Russia into East and West, the border between Asia & Europe. It is an important academy city, and also has a football team - Ural FC.
On paper, Ekaterinburg is an ultimate place to host the World Cup, though things are a bit more complex than that when deep diving in to the city story with the tournament.

In order to increase the capacity of the local stadium, the Central Stadium, which was established in 1957, from 23,000 seats to 35,000, an original solution has been found. The round and impressive structure, with no olympic runways whatsoever, was bizarrely renovated in which two temporary stands were placed behind the goals, in such a way that the fans are actually seating outside the stadium. Yup.

What was even more odd, is that almost 6,000 seats remained empty during the match that hosted 15,000 Egyptians & 3,500 Uruguayans. After talking with local residents, fans & journalists in the city I got a different picture. 

 Not everyone thought it's a good idea. The temporary stand in Central Stadium (Photo: Uri Levy)

Not everyone thought it's a good idea. The temporary stand in Central Stadium (Photo: Uri Levy)

When Russia won the hosting rights of the World Cup and it was announced that Ekaterinburg would be the a host city, there were those in the city who did not like the idea. This is a city with significant sectors of workers and students. For them it seemed that the investment in renovating the stadium and investing in a "one-time" infrastructure for the World Cup alone was perceived as corrupt and not beneficial to the locals. There were demonstrations, arrests while few strong figures in politics and local crime opposed to hosting games in the region. According to few  local journalists, the decision to host the World Cup games in the city was accepted after several influential people in the city  allegedly received bribes from interested parties. "No one really knows who approved it, and there is nothing to say, this structure is strange by all accounts, and does not do good PR to our city," says Alexander, a local fan who came to the game with a Russian flag on his back. But it wasn’t only this that was bizarre.

The temporary stands were filled on one side with thousands of Egyptians and Uruguayans and some Russians, but the stands along the lot were almost empty. It was the second game in the World Cup, and the most promising African team and one of the top South Americans. But thousands of seats remained empty, as mentioned.

When I asked official representatives at the stadium why this was the case, they first answered that they did not understand English. Finally, I turned to the FIFA representative in half about how the second game in the World Cup could be half empty. “the stadium was a sell out for this game." "How can that be?" I tried again. “It is not clear why and how no one came."

A brief review of ticket prices to category 1 indicates a strange situation.
The ticket to Uruguay and Egypt in Ekaterinburg in this category rose about $210 dollars - about what an average worker earns in the city for a whole week. So how does it make sense then? A FIFA administrator in the Media Center told me: ”I understand what you're saying, but I can not answer that. Sorry.”

A local journalist who wished to remain anonymous said that there was another explanation for the whole scandal. "When the opposition to hosting the World Cup was in the city, what happened was that the organising committee granted protection rights to local to few people who are connected with crime and drugs, to all the real estate assets related to the World Cup, and they were also guaranteed tickets. The empty chairs are simply tickets that someone could not sell on.”

So where is the truth lay? Apparently in the middle or on the side" Do not look so surprised, "she added. Sometimes things happen and there is no explanation for everything.” 

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