(1980–2020) Moscow’s Olympic Stadium is getting the ax, but officials are calling it

In the late 1970s, Moscow broke ground on a massive indoor sporting arena to host competitions during the 1980 Summer Olympics. Appropriately named the “Olimpiyskiy” (Olympic Stadium), it was a venue for athletic contests and music concerts for nearly 40 years. In 2019, however, the facility closed for remodeling. The public was told that the stadium’s historical façade would remain (the mayor’s website still indicates this), but some of it is already rubble. Meduza looks at the reconstruction efforts, so far, and explores if it was ever possible to preserve the iconic building’s historical appearance.

The Olimpiyskiy was opened concurrently with the Moscow Olympics — on July 19, 1980. It immediately became Europe’s largest indoor sports facility with a stadium capacity of 35,000 spectators and several swimming pools where another 15,000 people could watch the competitions.

Gradually, the Olimpiyskiy became one of the most recognizable buildings in Moscow. It hosted the Goodwill Games of 1986 and numerous world and European championships. In 1987, the Olimpiyskiy hosted the first concert of a Western rock band in the USSR — Uriah Heep. Later, world-famous artists like Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Shakira, Lady Gaga, and many others performed here, as well. In 2009, the Olimpiyskiy hosted the Eurovision Song Contest.

At the same time, part of the complex functioned until recently as a market.

On January 1, 2019, nearly 40 years after it opened, the sports complex was closed for remodeling. (When it launched, officials estimated that the stadium’s lifespan would be roughly 250 years). By 2019, the city of Moscow no longer owned the Olimpiyskiy, though it held a 64-percent stake in the property until 2014. This share, worth 4.67 billion rubles, was acquired by the closed joint-stock company “Neftegazprod,” which is affiliated with billionaire Musa Bazhaev’s “Alliance Group.” At a meeting with Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, Bazhaev’s partner and lawyer Dmitry Shumkov was presented as the new owner of Olimpiyskiy. He later purchased another 27.5 percent of the sports complex from its largest minority shareholder, Ukrainian-Russian developer Pavel Fuks. After Olimpiyskiy’s acquisition, Shumkov promised to remodel the complex and transform it into something rivaling New York’s Madison Square Garden.

After Shumkov’s suicide in late 2015, however, it emerged that Musa Bazhaev was the stadium’s true owner. Shumkov didn’t actually own any shares in the business, according to Bazhaev’s representatives. Two of Shumkov’s acquaintances told the news outlet RBC that Bazhaev and Shumkov were involved in Moscow real estate together, but decided to divide their assets in July 2015; Bazhaev allegedly took the Olimpiyskiy, while Shumkov walked away with other projects.

Two years later, in 2017, Alliance Group sold the stadium to the development company “Kievskaya Ploshchad,” which boasts a portfolio…

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