Poland were good hosts but played terribly
2 July ~ Polish TV has marked the end of the European Championship by running an advert entitled "2012 – we were all hosts", which shows happy supporters from various countries praising the organisation, Polish food and the warmth of the welcome they received. This self-congratulation is not unfounded. None of the long forecast problems materialised. The stadiums were ready; the large transport infrastructure projects were completed; and the tales of violent xenophobes stalking football grounds were shown to be wild exaggerations.
The fighting after Poland's game against Russia was a one-off event rooted in the unhappy history of relations between the two countries. Organisationally, Euro 2012 was a big success. On the field, however, Poland disappointed again. It was meant to be different this year. With the trio of Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek, who had played a key role in Borussia Dortmund’s second successive Bundesliga title, adding the class that recent Polish teams have lacked, Poland were expected to reach the knockout stages. They were playing at home in the weakest group but failed to win a game and put in an embarrassingly feeble performance in the all-or-nothing final group game against the Czech Republic.
The recriminations have now begun. Coach Franciszek Smuda has been told his services are no longer required. He has two months of his contract to run and will be well paid for doing nothing until the end of August, which will doubtless ease the pain.
The main target of the critics is the president of the football association, Grzegorz Lato, winner of the Golden Boot at the 1974 World Cup, but a man who has long since used up the goodwill accumulated during his distinguished playing career. He had promised to resign if Poland did not get out of the group but has since backtracked on this commitment and will remain in his lucrative post until at least October, when the association holds elections. He has many friends among the powerbrokers in the regional associations and may yet be re-elected.
It is doubtful that even the removal of Lato will change very much in an organisation that, almost uniquely in Poland, remains untouched by the political and social changes that have transformed Polish life since 1989. Football remains a place of mutual back-scratching and jobs for the boys.
Some commentators have suggested that Zbigniew Boniek, now a successful businessman based in Italy, is the man to undertake the root and branch reform widely seen as necessary. His plan to abolish the regional associations has already made him unelectable.
If reform cannot come from within, it may yet be imposed from outside. Successive sports ministers have looked on with exasperation at the goings on in the association. The current minister, Joanna Mucha, is both ambitious and has a keen eye for publicity. She has previously suggested that government intervention may be necessary only for FIFA, implacably hostile to what it sees as political interference in sporting matters, to threaten Poland with exclusion from international competition. Poland’s record over the last quarter of a century is one of consistent failure. That miserable record looks set to continue. Peter Bateman