The Russian city of Sochi’s only professional soccer club says it is withdrawing from the league, in a move which calls World Cup legacy plans into question. FC Sochi says in a website statement that it’s “taking a break” to rethink its strategy but plans to return in the 2018-19 season. “This does not mean that FC Sochi will cease to exist,” the club added.
It didn’t mention any deal with Russian football authorities, who would need to approve any return. FC Sochi, which played in the Russian third tier, had been due to move into Sochi’s World Cup stadium after the tournament.
It held a single league game there in April, its 6,000 fans vastly outnumbered by empty seats in the 47,000-capacity arena. The Fisht Stadium was originally built to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics. After the games, it closed for an extensive refit and only held its first football games this year. It’s one of Russia’s four venues for the Confederations Cup.
The stadium is 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the center of Sochi in the tourist-focused Olympic Park, which could pose difficulties for fans traveling to club games. A pro ice hockey team using a nearby Olympic arena has struggled to attract fans, averaging 5,300 at home games.
Professional soccer in Sochi has long been plagued by financial problems, which forced an earlier incarnation of FC Sochi to withdraw from the league in 2015. Another club from the city, Zhemchuzhina Sochi, briefly played in the Russian top flight in the late 1990s until cashflow problems forced it to close.