The government's plan to upgrade the A. Le Coq football stadium with five million euros has opened a heated debate in Estonian sports circles.
“In a situation where Estonian sports needs that money in better places, the five million feels like a complete waste and increasing the stadium's size completely pointless. A stadium, which stands empty most of the time, and which fails to attract a full house even during home games, to receive 5,000 more seats, is, in my opinion, absurd,” said Peep Pahv, the head of the sports department at Postimees.
Indrek Schwede, editor-in-chief of the football magazine “Jalka”, said that a respectable nation needs a respectable national stadium, adding that the five million would be used to finish the A. Le Coq project.
“The construction of the football stadium has not been completed the last 14 years, and people have got used to this. If a project has remained uncompleted for 14 years, I think finishing construction is justified,” Schwede said, adding that compared to other sports, football has been underfunded by the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOC).
Schwede said the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds are also empty most of the times, as are the stadiums of most top football clubs, as grass maintenance is very expensive.
“The project was too grand and it can be finished by not building new stands. Just finish off the inside rooms and it would be done, as the size of the stadium is enough. The money is essentially spent on no one while there are far more potent questions,” Pahv said.
“The decision by the prime minister was populist and pushed through by force. This is not how things should work. While the EOC lacks funds to send athletes to the Olympic games, then the prime minister pushes this forward, and it is hard to see any reason,” Pahv said.
The state budget for 2016, which has been approved by the government, but yet to be finalized by Parliament, includes five million euros to increase the size of the A. Le Coq national football stadium in Tallinn from 10,000 to 15,000.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, who spearheaded the idea, said Estonia could host the 2018 UEFA Super Cup final with a larger stadium.
Culture Minister Indrek Saar told Äripäev the five million does not come from the budget's of other sports federations.
“I do not see this as a tragedy. It is great that Estonian sports receives more money,” EOC secretary general Siim Sukles said. “As far as I know, this is additional funding and no money has been taken from other sports' fields. If the government is pro-sports, then this increases our confidence that other sports projects can also get additional funding,” Sukles added.
The stadium was opened in 2001, and has so far hosted 78 national team matches, of which 29 have been won and 28 lost. The stadium has held a host of other events, from the under 19 football European championships to a mass gathering of Jehovah's witnesses in July this year. The stadium is also home to football league team FC Flora.
The stadium cost over 200 million kroons (around 13 million euros) to construct in 2001, with city and the government both pitching in.
Editor: J.M. Laats