Making new sports grounds in villages with no one to use them is not news. Their number is close to a hundred now, and the reason behind this flare up in stadiums is that this construction does not require co-financing since the European Union grants 100% of the cash. The most extravagant object of this kind is located in the municipality of Dryanovo where two sports fields now exist only a few kilometres apart.
Tsareva Livada (“Tsar’s meadow”) sits at the foothills of the Balkan Range, where Northern and Southern Bulgaria meet. Legend has it that the royal Assen clan grazed their horses around this place; Tsar Ivan Assen II is said to have had his summer palace here as well. Today the place is crowned by a “royal” type of football pitch next to a village inhabited by about 800 people, most of them retirees, and without a football team.
Once you set foot on Tsareva Livada’s square, turn right, walk down the potholed road and you will see the pitch—about 1.5 hectares that cost EUR 1,895,557, all European funds. It was designed by Eco Prom Project EOOD and built by GP Group OOD.
Tsareva Livada’s sports ground includes an artificial grass football pitch, stands sating 815, and a building complete with a press conference room, a few service and dressing rooms, and a parking lot. Besides the VIP boxes, there is a booth for journalists and a command and observation post with 17 seats. The building also features two dressing rooms for players and one for referees, a delegation room, a lounge for members of the public, a doping control station and a medical surgery.
These are the project’s objectives: “building a stadium in the village of Tsareva Livada; building a football pitch, a volleyball and a basketball court and the renovation of a stadium in the town of Dryanovo, Dryanovo Municipality”(1). This compound was built on the basis of financial grant contract No. T7/321/01179 between the Dryanovo municipality and the State Fund Agriculture-Paying Agency (2). The project fell within the scope of Measure 321, “Basic services for the economy and rural population” under the EU’s Rural Development Programme. The total sum that went into these sports facilities amounted EUR 2,653,347 without VAT, or EUR 3,184,016 with VAT. EUR 554,778 of this amount came from the central budget. The sports ground was officially opened on August 28, 2015.
Here’s what some of the money was spent on (3)
Roughly EUR 10,000 was paid out for planting greenery. It is curious that this included 123 trees (hedge species, Norway maple, birch, old world sycamore, poplar, laurel cherry, two species of spruce, and weeping willow) in an area surrounded by woodland. Among the exotic species the municipality chose the Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), a threatened coniferous species found in Algeria and Morocco. The municipality ordered 12 cedars for EUR 1,348.
EUR 846 was forked out for 26 chairs, or EUR 32.5 each, while chair prices in specialized outlets start from EUR 15. EUR 490 was paid for three TV sets: 2 of them were placed in the teams’ dressing rooms and one in the lobby. One of the signboards was worth no less than EUR 7,670 while three wall hangers amounted to EUR 300 or EUR 100 each.
Putting the 2016 Dryanovo municipal budget next to the bill footing the fresh construction or repair of municipal sports facilities makes for a striking contrast. The budget worked out at EUR 3,933,570 while the sports project used EUR 3,184,016.
Who will practice at the “royal” pitch?
According to national statistics data, in late 2014 Dryanovo had a population of 9,234, living in 63 settlements. 77% of them reside in Dryanovo itself while the rest are spread amongst the surrounding villages, with Tsareva Livada, which has 800 residents, being the largest one. Eleven of the villages boast more than 50 inhabitants each, while the rest only have fewer. The 2011 census counted 3,599 retirees among them. Another 658 persons were “economically inactive” (jobless) in 2011; 1,314 suffered from some sort of disability, while schoolchildren from 1st to 12th grade in this municipality totalled 656.
So by straightforward reckoning, maybe 4,000 men and women in the municipality would be likely to get involved in some kind of sport and use these facilities. Yet this is a rather optimistic outlook as Dryanovo, just 6 km from Tsareva Livada, itself has a full-size natural grass football pitch belonging to the local Lokomotiv 1927-Dryanovo team. Neighbouring football squads have their own pitches, and the only reason for them to visit Tsareva Livada is to swap their urban environment for a more rustic one while practising their skills on artificial grass. But the village has no hotel to accommodate visiting players that might choose to try the new pitch. Local rural tourism is underdeveloped, with just a few guest houses.
The local authorities: the means justifying the end
“The new stadium in Tsareva Livada is part of the idea of Dryanovo turning into a sport tourism centre”–these are the words of Dr Ivan Nikolov, former Dryanovo mayor. He was the one who signed the contract for the sports compound and superintended the works. Building the facility was part of his campaign in the autumn of 2011 before his second term of office. But if it was designed to lure tourists, the way to do that was not so evident. Nonetheless, the municipality people told the media that Tsareva Livada had a rich sporting history.
Todor Vassilev, who was elected as chair of the new municipal council in 2015, says that the municipality is “doing its best to attract tourists and outside squads in order to make good on investments in rural sports facilities”.
Who were the contractors?
The construction-cum-repair bid was won by GP Group Ltd., with Eco Prom Project EOOD being the designer (4). The former ranks eighth in terms of public procurement volume from 2007 to 2015, according to published open data. GP Group has won EUR 233 million as a consortium member, and EUR 41 million on its own. In the spring of 2016, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov conjectured that the company was associated with Lukoil Bulgaria’s CEO, Valentin Zlatev, but the latter does not feature officially in the company registers (5).
The “royal” sports field in Dryanovo is in a league with about a hundred other village facilities in municipalities across Bulgaria which were built during the last mayoral term before the 2015 local elections. The last programming period saw 93 sports fields being repaired and arenas being built from the ground up for about EUR 2.5 million each–all of them in villages. Most of them were entirely EU-funded. Unlike many others, the Tsareva Livada facility is up and running. For no one to see.
By: Konstantin Kostov
(2) Contract between Dryanovo municipality and State Fund Agriculture-Paying Agency for “Exercise of author’s supervision over works to build a sports field in the village of Tsareva Livada; works to build a football pitch, volleyball and basketball courts and football pitch renovation in the town of Dryanovo, Dryanovo Municipality”
(3) See (1)
(4) The designer and builder of the sports facility in Tsareva Livada, http://www.buildingoftheyear.bg/bg/buildings/view/487/Sporten-kompleks-v-sTzareva-livada.html#.WBc97i2LTIU
(5) Who stands behind GP Group, http://www.mediapool.bg/koi-stoi-zad-dzhi-pi-grup-vodstroi-98-i-pst-grup-news245731.html