Is Samara ready to host the 2018 World Cup?

The Samara Arena as it stands in September 2017. Photo: Александр Карягин.

With the World Cup coming up in less than a year, cities all over Russia are giving their best efforts to prepare for the competition and the massive influx of tourists it will undoubtedly bring. At the beginning of September, Russian Football News had the opportunity to visit Samara; the sixth largest city in Russia and host of six World Cup matches next year. During the time there, a close eye was kept on the changes that were being made in time for the World’s most popular sporting competition.

 

Infrastructure

When visiting Samara it is obvious that something big is coming up as the city was packed with construction sites. From the city centre to the suburban neighbourhoods, infrastructure was being renovated to what the locals refer to as a ‘European standard’, and after seeing the already completed parts of the city, it would be hard to disagree with their assessment.

One of the thing that springs to mind is that the construction was mostly focused on roads and pathways instead of buildings. Parts of the embankment on the Volga river had completely been dug out with the intention of a complete overhaul, and many roads around the city were closed off. Although this was a bit of a pain while RFN was over there, the amount of work being done was quite impressive. Day and night, there were always people working on improvements.

Embankment beside Volga river under construction. Photo: Artëm Makarevitch/RFN

As already mentioned, work on houses and apartment blocks was a rare sight, and if something was being done, it was usually a building being repainted to look nicer for next summer. Once we get closer to the World Cup, it is expected that this part of the construction will speed up once Russia’s usual rough winter has come and gone.

One last thing that needs to be addressed is the tourist friendliness of important signs, whether that be on roads, in the underground stations, or somewhere else. All of the signs on new and renovated roads are written in both English and Russian to make sure people know where to go, but in the underground stations and other places, it is not always like this. Maybe this is just the case for places in need of renovation or just something they plan to do in the final months, but it is something that needs to be done to ensure tourists feel welcome and more importantly, know where to go once the World Cup starts.

 

Transport

If there’s one thing that really impresses about Samara, it was the reliability of the transport. There are multiple ways to get around the city, including buses, trams, marshrutka’s (minibuses), trolleybuses, and the underground metro. You can take any one of these to most parts of Samara, and it would be unusual that only one of these options could bring you to your destination. A single ticket on any of these options costs just 25 Rubles (€0.37), and although it may not be the most glamorous methods of transport, they get you where you need to be, on time.

If you’re a tourist who’s not too keen on figuring out how to get to somewhere, you can always call a taxi, and it will still be quite cheap; unless you’re going to the airport, that is. One of the days, this author took a taxi to somewhere that was 12 kilometres away. The trip took 40 minutes, and the fare turned out to be just 360 Rubles (€5.29).

The last form of transport that is worth a mention is the boat tour, which is a brilliant way to travel if it brings you near your destination. The boat goes from port to port along the Volga River, and gives passengers on board a scenic view of the city, for just 60 Rubles (€0.88).

In regard to transport to the Samara Arena, there will be buses, trolleybuses, trams and marshrutka’s that can bring you near the stadium, so there should be no problems for tourists.

Views from the boat of Russian dachas. Photo: Artëm Makarevitch/RFN

Stadium

Unfortunately, the Samara Arena (which will be called the Kosmos Arena after the World Cup) is not fully constructed yet. Because of the intense work being done, it wasn’t possible to get a tour around the ground, but that didn’t mean that information about the stadium and construction process wasn’t available. According to estimates, the stadium should be finished by the end of this year, more than likely sometime in November, leaving more than enough time needed to lay the pitch, and avoid a repeat of the Krestovsky disaster in St. Petersburg.

The stadium, which will be called the Cosmos Arena after the World Cup after the Soviet space program which was based in Samara, will have a capacity of just under 45,000. It will also be used as the stadium of Krylya Sovetov, who will be hopeful of an RFPL return before they move to their new home. The stadium has a very modern look to it, and if it looks like the pre-made designs, it will be one of Russia’s most beautiful stadia.

A prototype of the Samara Arena in the Municipal Museum Cosmic Samara. Photo: Artëm Makarevitch/RFN

Language Barrier

Earlier, the language barrier was lightly touched upon in regard to road signs and underground stations, but the topic needs to go further in depth overall.

Although it isn’t always easy to find someone in the service sector who speaks English, problems seldom arise. At restaurants, for example, it is almost always possible to get an English menu, and although they might have contained some dodgy grammar, it was not problematic.

The same was the picture when visiting shopping centres. It isn’t easy to find English speakers, but there is usually at least one worker who does, and who will be able to help tourists and foreigners when needed. This may not be a shock, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be shy to ask for an English-speaking assistant.

One thing to note is that Samara is a significantly smaller city than Moscow, and doesn’t get anywhere near the same number of tourists. Because of this, not many locals can speak fluent English. Of course, you get some people who can tell you some very basic information, but to expect a long meaningful conversation on the metro back to your hotel might be a bit unrealistic.

During the World Cup, this is, however, likely to change. English speakers will be in high demand, and there should be a large number of tour guides and volunteers around the main attractions of the city, so it shouldn’t be a problem to get around and get help if needed.

So, will Samara be ready for the World Cup next year? There were no signs of it not being ready. Although the city is going through a renovation process, if they continue with the same intensity, and keep aiming for that ‘European standard’ that locals are so proud of, And when this is reached, it will be a great host for the World Cup. Aside from watching football in one of Russia’s most architecturally advanced stadiums, tourists will find that Samara has lots of other attractions. From visiting Joseph Stalin’s bunker 12 stories underground to tanning on the beaches along the Volga river, the fans who are lucky enough to come to Samara will get a full view of what the city has to offer.

Author: Artem Makarevitch

Born in Russia, raised in Ireland. Studying Sports and Exercise Management in University College Dublin. Part-time youth football coach, full-time Russian football fan. Zenit St. Petersburg supporter.

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