Moscow cuts capacity over World Cup Sevens clash with Lions tour
Advertising and hoarding to fill third of stadium as World Cup Sevens and Australia tour collision expected to reduce crowd
Sebastian Coe and John Terry turned out in front of packed stands at the iconic Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, but when Rowan Varty and the Hong Kong team runs out next June at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, they will appear before a smaller audience.
Russian organisers yesterday revealed that the 75,000-seater stadium will be reduced in capacity to between 45,000 and 50,000 as they try to create a more intimate and fun atmosphere "like at the Dubai Sevens". But there are also fears that next summer's British and Irish Lions tour of Australia - which clashes with the World Cup - could reduce the number of fans travelling to Moscow.
"I don't know why there is a clash with the Lions tour, but we feel it might have an impact on the number of fans coming to Moscow and as such we have reduced the capacity at the Luzhniki," said Alexander Katnelson, deputy managing director of the RWC Sevens organising committee, part of the Russian delegation in the Emirate city to observe a world-class tournament being run.
While organisers of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens crave for a bigger stadium to meet the ever-increasing demand for tickets, the World Cup Sevens from June 28-30 in Moscow will go the opposite way, by covering almost one-third of the stadium with advertising banners and hoarding.
When Coe ran the 1,500 metres at the 1980 Olympics or when Chelsea and Manchester United played in the Champions League final in 2008, the stadium was bursting at its seams. But even though a three-day ticket costs just US$13 to watch the 24 men's teams, including Hong Kong, and 16 women's teams take part in their respective World Cups, organisers are worried about filling the stadium.
It is estimated that nearly 15,000 British fans will travel with the Lions to Australia - many of them stopping over in Hong Kong to watch the tour opener against the Barbarians on June 1 - reducing the number of those travelling to Moscow.
"We cannot expect a full-house like we had for the Champions League final, so we will be covering up a large section of the stands with advertising banners. We know the atmosphere is important, for the crowds make the sport. But we hope we will get a large number of fans turning up," Katnelson said as he witnessed nearly 40,000 fans revel at the second leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Russian organisers hope the emergence of rugby as an Olympic sport will have a positive effect on the home fans and have targeted a podium finish for both their men's and women's teams at the World Cup.
"Our ambition is to be one of the best three teams in both competitions," said Vladimir Pavlov, vice-president of the Russia Rugby Union. "We are very proud of hosting the first major rugby tournament since the game became an Olympic sport and we will do our best to make it a success."
The men's team showed plenty of spirit yesterday, running both New Zealand and Argentina close in the preliminary rounds. Argentina escaped with a 17-10 win while the Kiwis had to score two late tries to emerge 29-14 winners. The women's team shocked Canada, defending champions in Dubai, 15-12.