Tycoon Unveils Stadium Plans

APRoman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich, owner of London's Chelsea Football Club and Russia's richest man, plans to build his home country a new national soccer stadium to rival Wembley and the Stade de France.

An application was filed this year with City Hall to build the 55,000-seat arena near Moscow's Botanical Gardens, John Mann, a spokesman for Abramovich and his Russian oil company Sibneft, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. Mann declined to comment on financing or projected cost.

"We are waiting for an answer from the city government; everyone wants it," Artyom Vagin, a spokesman for the Football Union of Russia, said Wednesday by phone. "Of course, we're interested in this project. If someone offered to build a stadium for you, you'd take it."

Abramovich, 38, whose Chelsea club has spent more than £250 million ($441 million) on players since he bought the team in 2003, faced criticism in sports-mad Russia for using his oil wealth to benefit English soccer. Muscovites partied for most of the early hours of May 20 after CSKA, a Moscow club sponsored by Sibneft, won the UEFA Cup club competition and became the first Russian club to win a European title.

"This will be Russia's national football stadium, playing the same role for Russia that Wembley plays for England," Mann said.

The new Wembley stadium will hold 90,000 people when it opens next year after a £757 million overhaul. Arsenal's new stadium, also due to open in 2006, will seat 60,000, making it London's first club-owned arena that can seat more than 50,000.

The plan for the Moscow project calls for City Hall to provide the land and Abramovich to fund construction, which will be overseen by the Football Union, Vagin said. The union will pay back Abramovich using proceeds from the site, which would take at least three years to build, he said.

Moscow supports the project and is confident an agreement will be reached, Interfax reported Wednesday, citing Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev. Shantsev was not available for comment when Bloomberg called his office.

The stadium will be the main site for games involving Russia's national soccer team, Mann said. The arena would not be linked to any of Moscow's six Premier League clubs, any of which would be welcome to play there.

Russia probably would seek to attract major international competitions to the site, such as the final of the Champion's League, a yearly competition between Europe's best club sides, Mann said.

The arena also may be used to host concerts, Vagin said.

CSKA had entered the UEFA Cup after elimination from the Champions League group stage, where it lost twice to Chelsea. UEFA probed Abramovich's links to CSKA in October because it forbids individuals owning two clubs in the same tournament. It ruled Abramovich had no controlling stake in CSKA.

CSKA, which stands for Central Sports Club of the Army, gets about $18 million per year from Sibneft, a company controlled by Abramovich, whose $13.3 billion fortune makes him the world's 21st-wealthiest individual, according to Forbes. London's Chelsea in April won its first English championship in 50 years after Abramovich's wealth allowed the club to hire coach Jose Mourinho, who led Portugal's Porto to the Champions League title in 2004, and to buy players including Didier Drogba, who cost £24 million.

Sergei Stepashin, the head of Russia's Kremlin-controlled Audit Chamber, in 2003 criticized Abramovich for spending millions of dollars earned inside Russia on English soccer. Stepashin, who was replaced in 1999 as prime minister by Vladimir Putin, now Russia's president, urged Abramovich to invest in Russian sports.

Tverskaya Ulitsa, Moscow's main street, was blocked off for more than an hour by celebrating fans after CSKA rallied from a goal down to beat Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in Lisbon's Estadio Jose Alvalade and take the UEFA Cup.

Russia's national team currently plays at Luzhniki, an 80,000-seat stadium that was refurbished in 1997 when Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov orchestrated the city's 850th birthday celebrations.

Moscow's six Premier League teams are all in the top 10 of the 16-club competition. Dynamo, Lokomotiv and Torpedo have their own stadiums, while CSKA, FC Moscow and Spartak Moscow use Luzhniki or other clubs' facilities.

Sibneft also sponsors Siberian ice hockey team Omsk Avangard, which was eliminated in the semifinals of Russia's Super League this year, for about $10 million per year. Jaromir Jagr, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, joined Avangard last season after the owners of teams in the United States' National Hockey League locked out players in September over a wage dispute.

Abramovich built his wealth with assets acquired after the fall of the Soviet Union, including Sibneft, Russia's fifth-biggest oil producer.

He became Russia's richest man after the government claimed $28 billion in tax from the Yukos oil company and put former owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky on trial. Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, was sentenced May 31 to nine years in prison by a Moscow court for tax evasion and fraud.

 Russia's Olympic Committee picked the Black Sea resort of Sochi to be the country's bid city for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, RIA-Novosti reported, citing Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachev. Russia has every chance of persuading the International Olympic Committee to award the Games to Sochi, Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said during a meeting Wednesday with Tyagachev, RIA reported.

Russia has never hosted a Winter Olympics. Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Games, which was tainted by a U.S.-led boycott to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Russian capital was one of five finalists to host the 2012 Summer Games, which were awarded to London on July 6.