UEFA chief Michel Platini arrived in Poland Wednesday for crunch talks with the country’s leaders, amid concerns over slack preparations for Euro 2012 by the Poles and their Ukrainian co-hosts.
Platini was due to sit down in Warsaw for one-on-one discussions with football-mad Prime Minister Donald Tusk, then President Lech Kaczynski, before travelling to Kiev on Thursday for similar meetings with their Ukrainian counterparts Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko.
Members of UEFA’s 10-strong delegation were meanwhile to hold talks with Polish and Ukrainian government ministers, football federation leaders and other officials preparing for the next edition of the European championsips.
Alarm bells have been ringing for months at European football’s governing body, amid fears that Poland and Ukraine are failing to tackle the mammoth challenge of getting ready for the showcase tournament.
French football legend Platini has been issuing repeated warnings to Poland and Ukraine, who in April 2007 were UEFA’s surprise pick to host the 2012 edition of the quadrennial, 16-nation championships, beating Italy and joint bidders Hungary and Croatia.
On Saturday, Platini stepped up the pressure by giving Poland and Ukraine a September deadline to prove they are on target.
Platini recalled that after a meeting on January 29, UEFA’s executive had already told the Poles and Ukrainians to “wake up” and gave them four months to prove their mettle.
“In September in Bordeaux we will make a final decision,” said Platini, referring to the executive’s next session in the southern French city on September 25-26.
“We will do everything we can to ensure Poland and Ukraine host it and there is no backup plan.
“The only reason for us to decide not to have the tournament in Poland and Ukraine would be if there were no stadiums in the two capitals,” where there have been major construction headaches, he said.
Neither Poland nor Ukraine has ever hosted a high-level tournament.
In addition, after the Alpine efficiency of well-heeled Euro 2008 hosts Austria and Switzerland, the 2012 choice marks UEFA’s first major foray into the former communist bloc, where the infrastructure challenges are massive.
Besides needing new stadiums, Poland and Ukraine have to bring their air, rail and road transport services up to scratch and upgrade their hotel sector to cope with the influx of fans.
In April, the head of Ukraine’s football federation, Grigory Surkis warned of a “crisis” because of the “constant breach” of the schedule agreed with UEFA.
Public worries are also mounting.
In Poland, a survey last week found that 77 percent doubted all the pieces would fall into place in time.
Amid concerns about Poland and Ukraine’s capability, other nations have begun pitching themselves as alternative hosts.
The Scottish Football Association – which lost in a joint bid with Ireland to host Euro 2008 – has said it is ready to step in if Poland and Ukraine fail to make the grade.
But UEFA have said that raging rumours they are seriously considering stripping the Poles and Ukrainians of Euro 2012 are baseless.
Analysts say one of the reasons for UEFA to stick with their choice is the business side of things.
Jacek Bochenek, who monitors Euro 2012 plans for the consultancy firm Deloitte, told the Polish daily Puls Biznesu daily that the combined 85 million-strong population of Poland and Ukraine constituted too important an advertising market, with huge potential for growth for the tournament’s sponsors.
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