COVID has been doing its worst all over the rugby world but the lockdown, and massive economic problems confronting all Unions, have not stopped Romania completing a massive €36m redevelopment – in effect a rebuild – of the Stadionul Arcul de Trium in Bucharest.
Work was at a crucial stage back in March when the sporting world came grinding to a halt but despite the uncertain financial outlook, the Romanian Rugby Federation President Alin Petrache decided to press on.
After countless years of courting local politicians and councils and putting the necessary finance together, Petrache felt it was ‘now or never’. If the project was put on hold it might never get back on the priority list.
The result has been a shiny 8,500 all-seater stadium to greet the Oaks when they can next gather for a Test match and also an all-weather pitch with underground heating which Romania are hoping will persuade EPCR to once again grant a place for a Romania domestic XV in the European Challenge Cup.
Previously the impossibility of playing rugby from late November through to February has made participation very difficult.
To help pay the bills the Romania Federation will also be hiring out the facility and a number of matches at the FIFA U21 championship have been scheduled there for next summer. An on-site 60-room hotel has also been built with underground parking.
Romania coach Andy Robinson has been following the progress closely and is delighted:
“I was in Bucharest a couple of weeks ago for squad training and was stunned by the great job the construction people have done. Essentially the stadium is good to go other than a few internal fittings. We could have staged our scheduled Rugby Europe fixture against Belgium there last weekend but unfortunately the recent upsurge in Covid has seen all the remaining REC fixtures put on hold.
“All things being equal it will probably be February before we get to host a game but make no mistake it has a massive role to play in the regeneration of Romanian rugby.
“We want to aim for a ‘club atmosphere’, a friendly well-appointed ground which we can fill and where the fans can congregate and enjoy a good afternoon as well as the rugby. We have insisted on their being a big clubhouse for everybody to mingle, food outlets and we have a few boxes to encourage some corporate support.
“It’s really important to us and when the world returns to normal we are hoping we get a team back into Europe and fans might start to look on Bucharest as a weekend venue. It’s completely changed from what we remember 30 years ago.
“When not in Romania I’ve been following the progress all summer and autumn from afar and it’s been pretty inspiring. In fact, when the Union have sent over the latest pictures for me to look at I’ve been sending out a mass email to all the sqaud with all the pictures attached, letting them know that Romania rugby was not regressing and not allowing Covid to get the better of us.
“We are still looking to the future and thinking big and quite a few of the players have told me that it has really helped, especially right in the middle of lockdown when the future looked so uncertain. They could train with a goal and future in mind.
“I must pay huge tribute to our president, Alin, who has driven this through. It has very much been his project and he absolutely wasn’t going to let anything stop it. He is a rugby man but also works closely with the city council and the authorities in Bucharest; it was him who sold them the idea and never lost faith.”