One year on from winning the race to hold Euro 2012, Poland and Ukraine are under mounting pressure from UEFA to step up efforts to get ready for the football showcase.
In the face of repeated warnings from European football’s governing body about the mammoth task, both countries have been pushed on to the defensive.
On April 18, 2007, UEFA raised eyebrows by choosing Poland and Ukraine over Italy and joint bidders Hungary and Croatia to host the quadrennial, 16-nation European championships.
It will be the first time either has run a major tournament — and in Poland it is seen as a way to improve the image of the domestic game, tarnished by match-fixing.
It also marks UEFA’s first big foray into the ex-communist bloc, where stadiums, hotels and transport are undergoing a major upgrade — with an estimated price tag of 42 billion euros (67 billion dollars) in Poland and Ukraine.
UEFA chief Michel Platini has been turning up the heat, urging the hosts to “protect the credibility” of Euro 2012, and last month issued a new “wake-up call.”
UEFA recently sent inspectors to Poland, but has refused to comment on their findings.
According to leaks in the Polish press, they noted a “speeding up” of overall plans, but were deeply concerned about the stadiums.
They spotlighted a “very high risk” that the new, 55,000-seat venue for the opening match, in the heart of Warsaw, would not be ready.
Michal Borowski, who is in charge of the 400-million-euro (637-million-dollar) state-funded project, this week played down the worries.
“The stadium should be delivered by 2011. That’s a little later than promised by the government. But there’s no other chance of doing it before,” he told reporters.
UEFA also allegedly pointed to a “high risk” in the Baltic port of Gdansk, but saw progress in Poznan and Wroclaw to the west.
Wroclaw’s mayor, Rafal Dutkiewicz, told AFP things were going “quite well”, with the 44,000-seat stadium there due to open by the end of 2010. “We’ll have challenges, but what’s nicer than challenges?” he said.
The stadium situation looks better in Ukraine. Kiev’s main ground is already being transformed into an 85,000-seat venue for the final.
To the east, work is winding down in Dnepropetrovsk, with a new 50,000-seat arena set to open this summer, while a similar-sized venue in Donetsk should be ready by the end of the year. Some local authorities are gloomy, however.
“Preparations for Euro 2012 are going worse and much slower than they could be,” said Donetsk’s mayor, Alexander Lukianchenko.
Infrastructure remains a major worry.
Currently, the 1,900-kilometre (1,180-mile) trip from Gdansk to Donetsk requires serious stamina.
A lucky driver can do it in 23 hours — not counting the wait at the border — with just 23 kilometres (14 miles) of motorway and most of the rest on single-lane roads.
It’s worse by train: the trip takes 43 hours, at best.
Despite major EU funding since the fall of communism in 1989 and Poland’s membership of the bloc in 2004, the country still hasn’t built a basic motorway network between its major cities. The situation is worse in Ukraine.
Polish authorities aim to build 1,100 kilometres (682 miles) of new motorway nationwide by 2012. Since last April, however, they have tallied just 35 kilometres (22 miles).
Among other concerns are new airport facilities and hotels.
The sluggishness was an election issue last October, when Poland’s liberals, led by ardent football fan Donald Tusk, beat the country’s conservatives.
Polish businesses, however, complain that despite pledges, Tusk has done too little to cut the red tape hampering preparations.
“There hasn’t been the necessary legislation to smooth the organisation of Euro 2012,” said employers’ federation boss Andrzej Malinowski.
Tusk, however, has affirmed he is “100-percent convinced” things will be fine.
“Speaking frankly, over the past year we could have done much more,” said the Ukrainian Football Federation’s chief Grigory Surkis, blaming the political instability that has gripped his country.
But striking a positive note, he said: “I’m sure we will succeed.”
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