RIGA - Latvia is in jeopardy of losing the 2006 World Ice Hockey Championship if construction on a proposed arena, delayed due to a dispute over land with the Riga City Council, does not begin soon.
Latvia was awarded the games in May 2001 provided that they build a 12,000-seat arena by Sept. 2005. However, with slightly over a year-and-a-half to go, construction works have yet to begin.
In order to fund the project Multihalle, the general contractor that was awarded the $200 million - $250 million stadium project 18 months ago, has asked the City Council for land that it could use as collateral against bank loans needed to finance construction. Without the land, banks will be unwilling to lend the money.
The council, for its part, said it was willing to provide the land but on the condition that it had a say in key business decisions with the stadium. City Council Deputy Chairman Sergejs Dolgopolovs reportedly said that the city would not get involved unless it holds a majority stake in the project.
"At the moment the Riga City Council has been put into an unenviable position... They have become a hostage of an unprofessional business activity," Visnev-ska added.
"The city of Riga is very interested in the organization of the hockey championship, which would mean a large influx of tourism, and the name of Riga would be heard throughout the world," Brigita Visnevska, spokeswoman for Mayor Gundars Bojars, said.
"If the City Council becomes Multihalle's co-owner then the arena will most likely be built. If not, one can assume that there will be people who will blame the Riga City Council for the failure to secure the championship," Visnevska said.
She added that there was a lack of support from the state for the project and that if Latvia loses this event, there would not be a second time.
But even though Latvia risks losing the championships, plans for an alternative venue have not been made.
"This question was not even discussed at the last IHF [International Hockey Federation] congress," Elita Sprodze, managing director for the 2006 championships, told The Baltic Times.
"Everything has been done on our side, we cannot control what happens on that (construction) side," she added.
However, despite media reports to the contrary, the construction is still on schedule, Multihalle officials said.
"I don't see any problems. The project is still on schedule, and we are still negotiating with banks. We will present a plan to the Riga city on [Jan. 27]," Ivars Kalvisks, managing director of Multihalle, told The Baltic Times.
"I am not only optimistic, but I am convinced that we will have the 2006 World Championship here in Riga," he added.
The multifunction stadium is on schedule, and will be completed in time if construction begins by April or May, stressed Kalvisks, although he added that it would "be better if it began in February."