The 2017 Confederations Cup kicks off in St. Petersburg in a month's time. However, the world's northern-most city of a million people or more continues to struggle with its extremely expensive stadium.
Even in the modern football world two things are certain: The ball is round and the pitch is green.
However, one of those two truths is in jeopardy in St. Petersburg; the pitch is currently white. As if in a gigantic greenhouse, the grass in the new soccer stadium is growing under a white plastic foil - and it is not doing well. In fact it is doing so badly that it's still not clear whether it will be ready in time for the opening match of the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, when Russia faces New Zealand.
"The point-of-no-return is on May 31," Igor Albin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg said as he showed members of the media around the stadium.
Albin gave the impression of being a man who knows what he is talking about, having swapped his warm office at city hall for the wind-swept construction site on remote Krestowsky Island - at least temporarily. Albin is a politician, and football is politics in Russia, host of the Confed Cup and next year's World Cup.
From the grandstand, the deputy-mayor gazed down on the lamps above the playing field. The lamps shine their light on the plastic film, acting as an artificial sun.
"At the same time, the undersoil heating warms the surface to more than 16 degrees," Albin said. "If our revival efforts have not been successful by May 31, this grass will be replaced. The bed on which it lies will be wheeled out through a slot underneath the one of the stands and the new pitch will be rolled out and placed on the bed in its place"
The way Igor Albin says it, it all sounds simple, but it really isn't, because the area to where the pitch would be wheeled out is already full of containers that are to be used by the broadcasters at the Confed Cup.
"This is due to a mistake made by the constructors of the stadium," the politician conceded.
Unfortunately, this is not the only one.
A symbol of Russian corruption and mismanagement
The new stadium is a real eye-catcher. Surrounded by the blue waters of the Neva River, it shines like a huge silver flying saucer in the sun. However, for the residents of St. Petersburg, the arena, which has taken 10 years to build, stands as a symbol of Russian corruption and mismanagement. Albin described the stadium project as the "most complicated thing" that he has ever had to deal with in his entire career.
The project has been plagued by one scandal after another. Construction plans were scrapped, heads rolled, and costs increased. At one point, it was not clear whether the innovative stadium with its retractable roof and moveable (in theory) pitch would ever be completed - but it has been. Depending on who you ask, the total cost is somewhere between 680 million euros ($756 million) and almost 800 - instead of the planned 111 million euros. This makes it one of the most expensive stadiums in the world. So it is no surprise that the local media delight in poking fun at the fact that the grass won't grow.
The atmospheric center of the Confed Cup
Provided that the problem with the pitch can be overcome, there will be nothing standing in the way of the 2017 Confed Cup kicking off in a month's time - and there will be every reason for the traveling fans to look forward to a beautiful football festival in four weeks in St. Petersburg. The metropolis on the Neva River,that Russians refer to as the "Venice of the North," is the only one of the four Confed Cup hosts (the others are Moscow, Sochi and Kazan), where a large fan zone is to be set up in the city center. The World Cup will be highly anticipated here, but not just here.
Unlike the Soviet-designed and gigantomanic Moscow, St. Petersburg, with its European flair, offers innumerable bars and pubs in a relatively small district. In the middle of June, fans will be able to enjoy what Russians refer to as "white nights", when the sun barely sets and the locals become particularly relaxed and sociable. The city will be laying on free buses from the airport to the city center, the supporters will be able to get around on newly purchased underground trains and the fast boats on the Neva will travel even faster than usual. English and Chinese will be added to many of the street signs.
The underground is already filled with advertisements for this major sporting event. And when the International Economic Forum and the city's anniversary celebrations are over at the beginning of June, modern football symbolism will also adorn the historic facades of the city center.
St. Petersburg wants the world to know that it is ready for the Confed Cup, even if they are still working on sorting out the problem with the pitch.