TALLINN - Just a few days before the Euro 2004 soccer championship opened in Portugal, the Estonian government ruled on June 10 that it would provide the 4.5 million euros needed to complete construction work on the A.leCoq Arena stadium in Tallinn.
The government will receive 35 percent of shares in the showpiece soccer stadium in exchange for the support.
The stadium, which is owned by FC Flora, Estonia's current soccer champions and the dominant force in Estonian soccer, is the largest and most modern in the country. Although it has been in use for the last three years, work on the stadium's interior and infrastructure still hasn't been completed due to lack of finances.
The government's decision, although welcome by FC Flora, will still have to be approved by the Parliament in autumn, and it has already been widely criticized by other sports associations and some politicians.
Villu Reiljan, minister of environmental affairs, told the Postimees daily that although the stadium was a necessity, the government didn't have any concrete plans for getting a return on its investment.
Reiljan added that the topic of giving money to FC Flora appeared "out of the blue" on the evening before the June 10 government session agenda.
Representatives of other sport associations claimed that putting so much money into the stadium looked extremely suspicious, when Saku Hall, a multifunctional arena used for basketball, ice hockey, volleyball, judo and other sports and concerts, only received 543,000 euros in support from the government.
It's well known that Prime Minister Juhan Parts, who plays for a team made up of government officials called FC Toompea, is an avid soccer fan.
But FC Flora President Aivar Pohlak said that the importance of the decision by the government to support the stadium was difficult to overexaggerate.
"I believe that in addition to myself, all the other soccer fans are grateful to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture. Without their understanding and cooperation the decision would have never been taken," said Pohlak.
The total cost of the A.LeCoq Arena stadium, which can host about 8,000 spectators, will run at about 14 million euros.