An Old Stadium's New Face
The World Cup is the biggest event ever held at the Luzhniki Stadium-a historical place that has witnessed the flowering of Russia's sports and elite athletes.
AN eight-meter statue of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov welcomes every visitor to the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The statue of the leader of Bolshevik movement and founder of the Soviet Union, more popularly known as Lenin, has become the focal point of Russia's largest stadium.
An iron gate and a metal detector is neatly installed at each of the four entrances of the stadium, while close circuit cameras lurk in every corner of stadium's cream colored walls. Police officers and guides, in their green and red vests, stand guard across the stadium and its surrounding park areas.
The running track around Luzhniki is usually open to the public. Every day, 5-10 thousand people would come to play sports or to simply walk around the stadium's parks. But during the 2018 World Cup, Luzhniki's first ring zone can only be entered by those with a special permit. "Will reopen to the public on July 18," said a volunteer guide.
Luzhniki is Russia's primary key to hosting the World Cup. Two important games, the World Cup's opening and final matches, were held in this 81-thousand capacity stadium. Three other qualifying matches, one top 16 match and a semifinal match between England and Croatia were also held at the stadium.
President Vladimir Putin sees Russia's first time hosting the World Cup as a source of great pride for the nation. "Soccer is not only popular in this country; everyone loves it," he said in front of the 78 thousand spectators who came to watch the World Cup's opening in Luzhniki, June 14. "This is like love at first sight since the first official soccer match was held in Russia in 1897."
It was in Luzhniki that the Russian team had their first success at the 2018 World Cup after defeating Saudi Arabia 5-0, although Russia was eliminated in the quarter-finals. Still, it was Russia's best performance in the four World Cup tournaments since the country adopted the name the Russian Federation.
The last time the Russians last reached the quarter-final round was in 1970, still under the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, the Russian team's performance started to falter. In fact, Russia was rank lowest among the 32 World Cup participants.
According to Katya Yusupova, a Muscovite, Russia's accomplishment was widely discussed. "It's quite sad that Russia failed in the quarter-finals, but we're at least quite satisfied to prove wrong many people's prediction that Russia would fail faster," she said before bursting into laughter.
For the 2018 World Cup, Russia had prepared 12 stadiums in 11 cities, with 10 stadiums built from zero. Only Luzhniki and the Yekaterinburg Arena in the city of Yekaterinburg received funding for renovation. Both are old stadiums and are among Russia's protected historical sites.
It was the Soviet Union government that decided to build Luzhniki after the country managed to snatch 71 medals, including 22 gold, in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. The Soviet Union came second only to the United States, who received 40 gold medals.
This was a big achievement for the Soviet Union, who participated in the Olympics for the first time after World War II. At the time, the country did not have special facilities for elite athletes and was still recuperating from the aftermath of a war that had killed around 25 million of its citizens. The Soviet Union wanted a large national facility to accommodate its athletes as well as an arena for international competitions.
The Luzhniki Stadium project began in January 1955, designed by architects A.V. Vlasov, I.E. Rozhkin, N.N. Ullas, and A.F. Hryakov. At first they had some difficulty finding a site large enough to hold a large sports complex. After surveying Moscow, they found an area by the Moscow River, surrounded by forests.
The site was also strategic as it lay on a main junction on Moscow's 1930 map. The area connects the Kremlin, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior-the world's tallest Orthodox Christian church-and the Moscow State University.
In building the stadium, workers as well as materials were gathered from all over the country. The old and dilapidated buildings that had occupied the site prior were razed to the ground. Building materials were sent in from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Armenia, while electrical tools and oak wood for the spectators' tribune came from Ukraine. Riga and Kaunas sent furniture, and Minsk supplied glass.
Since parts of the site were marshes, the stadium's foundation was made half a meter higher than the original plan. More than 10 thousand concrete bolts were planted to strengthen the foundation and three million cubics of dirt were added to the area, to level the land.
In 450 days, the grand stadium was finished. On July 31, 1956, the facility was officially opened and given the name Moscow Central Stadium. With the addition of a small sports stadium, aquatic arena, ice rink and a number of outdoor arenas, the Moscow Central Stadium became the grandest and most comprehensive facility in Europe at the time.
The Spartakiad-an Olympics-like event exclusively for Soviet Union citizens-was then held at Luzhniki. This tournament was usually held right before the Olympics and was used as a barometer for Soviet athletes. Sixteen soccer players from the Moscow team, including the legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin, who had won in the first Spartakiad in 1956, were recruited in the Russian Olympics team and won gold at the Melbourne Olimpics.
Luzhniki is also said to be President Sukarno's inspiration for building a central stadium in Indonesia. In 1956, when Indonesia and the Soviet Union enjoyed a close relationship, Sukarno visited the Soviet Union and gave a speech at Luzhniki.
Sukarno then gave instructions to build the Gelora Bung Karno Central Stadium in Senayan, Jakarta. According to several Russian media, architects and workers were sent from the Soviet Union to assist in building the stadium. In 1962, Indonesia's largest stadium was officially opened. In the same year, the Asian Games was held in Indonesia for the first time.
Although the stadium, which for a while was called the Stadion Utama Senayan (Senayan Principal Stadium), was inspired by Luzhniki's design, its dome roof was installed first, when Luzhniki did not yet have a similar roof. Even so, several adjustments and renovations later, Luzhniki has had more experience hosting great international events compared to Gelora Bung Karno.
Renovating Luzhniki required a significant amount of money, around US$457 million, or around Rp6.5 trillion-especially because the renovation had to be done without altering the structure of the stadium, which is a historical site. "It's now more comfortable to watch games inside the stadium," Katya Yusupova said.
Seat capacity and seating arrangements were the most significant changes. Luzhniki once had a capacity of 100 thousand spectators. But such a massive capacity was considered unsafe and uncomfortable for spectators. Luzhniki's Reconstruction Deputy Director Ilgiz Khairoutdinov says in 15 to 30 percent of the tribune area, spectators were unable to see the arena clearly. "They increased the angle of the stands, so the fans can now see better," he said, as quoted in RT.
The tribune was raised by 10 meters and replaced by a two-tier model built at a sharper angle. The running track around the arena was also taken away. "They were able to move the stands closer, improving visibility," Khairoutdinov said. We witnessed these improvements when we watched the World Cup's opening match with a very clear view of the soccer field, with no visual barriers caused by the heads of spectators sitting in front of us.
Although the stadium's interior has become more modern, Luzhniki's external appearance still represents the era in which the stadium was built. With its tall pillars and cream colored concrete walls, Luzhniki has maintained its original facade. Stone carvings and reliefs from the time of the Soviet Union still adorn the stadium's walls.
Besides functioning as a base for Russia's national teams, the stadium is also a place where big events are held, such as musical concerts. Luzhniki has hosted bands and musicians such as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Michael Jackson, U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
According to Moscow's deputy mayor for urban development and construction, Marat Khusnullin, Luzhniki expects around 5 million visitors each year. He assures us that Luzhniki's World Cup facilities can be used for sports and even recreation after the tournament. "All new infrastructure must be used to its maximum," he said.
Gabriel Wahyu Titiyoga (moskow)
Grand Tournaments At Luzhniki
- Spartakiad of Peoples of the USSR (1956, 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1975, 1979) -
- World Hockey Championship (1957)
- World Festival of Youth and Students (1957, 1985)
- Ice Speedway World Championship (1960, 1984)
- World Modern Pentathlon Championship (1961)
- World Speed Skating Championship (1962)
- Summer Universiade (1973)
- Summer Olympic Games (1980)
- Goodwill Games (1986)
- Friendship match between Russia and the FIFA team, in commemoration of Luzhniki's 80th anniversary and Rusian soccer's centennial anniversary (1997)
- UEFA Cup Final (1999)
- UEFA Champions League Final (2008)
- Rugby World Cup Sevens (2013)
- World Championships in Athletics (2013)
- FIFA World Cup (2018), russia