Today, at 6 p.m. local time in Moscow, the 2018 World Cup will begin with a match between host country Russia and Saudi Arabia. This year’s tournament will be the first in which FIFA required that all stadiums be built and renovated with sustainability in mind. Despite this requirement, some stadiums, such as Kaliningrad, have been less than environmentally friendly. Kaliningrad Stadium was built on one of Kaliningrad’s last wetlands, a habitat for rare birds, on October Island. “It was a typical delta island, with peat and a wetland reed-bed. It was a little corner of heaven in the city, where birds lived,” local ecologist Alexandra Korolyova told ABC News. “Really, if Russia paid more attention to protecting the environment, it could potentially have become a reservation or national park within the city.”
The fate of Kaliningrad’s wetlands was sealed in 2014 when much of the habitat was buried beneath more than a million tons of sand to prepare the grounds for the stadium. While Kaliningrad Stadium was constructed with green materials and features energy efficient ventilation and electrical systems, its impact is not ecologically sustainable, particularly considering how the wetlands once served as a natural cleaner of the nearby polluted river. “We’ve lost a lot, and I don’t see what we’ve gained,” said Korolyova.
From the Russian state perspective, not much was lost at Kaliningrad. “Everything was done in accordance with best practice,” chairman of Russia’s World Cup organizing committee Arkady Dvorkovich told the Associated Press. “This place, in my view, was more like wasteland than a place with very good nature. Theoretically, of course, you can call any swamp a very beautiful and environmentally clean place, but it’s not really correct in relation to the city infrastructure and the cities.”