MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered officials in three host cities for the 2018 World Cup to speed up stadium development, amid renewed concerns over the jinx-ridden key venue in St Petersburg.

In a decree published on the Kremlin’s website, Putin said the Zenit Arena and other infrastructure must be completed on time.

The note was reminiscent of the comment by former FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke, ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, that local organisers needed “a kick up the backside” to ensure the stadia were ready on time.

The decree said Putin instructed officials to “adopt comprehensive measures to eliminate the gaps” in the stadium’s construction schedule. Similar instructions were issued to officials in Kaliningrad and Samara, which have also been encountering difficulties in their stadium preparations.

The latest development comes after Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko on Friday said St Petersburg must meet its obligations as a host for the 2017 Confederations Cup following the dismissal of the general contractor that has been leading construction of the Zenit Arena.

The stadium is currently scheduled for completion by December this year, but the project has suffered a number of delays, cost increases, design changes and allegations of mismanagement. Workers first broke ground on the 69,000-seat stadium in the western part of Krestovsky Island in 2007.

Contract cancellation

Progress is likely to be further troubled after confirmation that the city of St Petersburg has notified Inzhtransstroy about cancelling its construction contract.

Vadim Tyulpanov, chairman of Russian’s Federation Council commission for the preparations to host the World Cup, said last week that the city will not be able to host matches at the Confederations Cup if the stadium is not finished by December.

However, Mutko said St Petersburg must ensure construction is completed in time, adding that the city has the funds to finish the project.

St Petersburg City Hall said on Thursday that it was firing Inzhtransstroy, the general contractor, over repeated delays and cost overruns. City Hall also said it had approached the police because it allocated $39m (€35.3m) for construction which has not been accounted for.

World governing body FIFA told Russian news agency TASS Monday) that it expects St. Petersburg to provide all guarantees and fulfil all its obligations, with delivery of Zenit Arena by the end of the year.

The Zenit Arena has been lined up for a prominent role at the World Cup, including staging a semi-final, while it has also been pencilled in as one of four venues for the 2017 Confederations Cup.