Wednesday 8 April ~
It is almost two years to the day since the 2012 European Championship was jointly awarded to Ukraine and Poland, a surprising decision that nevertheless appealed to most neutrals. Two years on, however, things may be changing: Ukraine is looking at the possibility of hosting only a reduced number of matches, or not hosting any at all. Although there are various problems still to be overcome, the most pressing is undoubtedly finding suitable stadiums.
Originally it was proposed that games would be played in four Ukrainian cities: Kiev, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Lviv, with Odessa and Kharkiv in reserve. However, as early as June 2007 UEFA had to deny reports that it was unsure of whether Ukraine would have stadiums ready in time. The doubts have never really disappeared and a final decision is to be made in May, following a visit to the country by Michel Platini.
Central to the problem has been the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, scheduled to host the final. The major problem here was not the stadium itself, but an unfinished shopping centre next door. UEFA regulations demand that in the event of evacuation there is an area of 0.5 square metres per person outside the stadium, which the centre ate into. Initially the Ukrainian authorities were unable to ascertain who had given the go-ahead for the project, and a stand-off between them and the investors followed; the investors didn’t want to abandon a project on which they had spent heavily, and the authorities didn’t want pay out compensation. Fortunately the issue is now resolved and work has started, but time is short and the final cost of the project will not be confirmed until mid May. It is essential that the stadium is completed on time; UEFA has repeatedly stated that Ukraine will not host any games if the capital city has no venue.
Given its geographical and historical closeness to Poland, Lviv was an obvious choice to host matches. Unfortunately preparations there are the least developed of all the host cities, with the foundations for a new stadium only now being laid. In a recent visit to Lviv, UEFA general secretary David Taylor pointedly noted “it is indeed a wonderful city, but it will be even more wonderful when the football stadium is completed”. It is difficult, given the geographical size of Ukraine, to imagine Euro 2012 without this large border city and potentially key transport hub, but this remains a distinct possibility.
Rumours have suggested that Poland may become the sole host, or that just two Ukrainian cities – Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk – will host games, with the rest going to Poland. The first variant seems unlikely, given that the Dnipro Arena is already hosting matches, and in Donetsk the UEFA elite-grade Donbass Arena is close to completion (although slow work on the city’s airport is another concern). Kiev must certainly be involved, and huge amounts of money are being ploughed into refurbishment work there, though after that it is difficult to see where else will be able to persuade UEFA of its readiness in a few weeks’ time; as well as concerns about Lviv, Taylor also expressed disappointment at the pace work in the two reserve cities.
Straight after the championship was awarded to Ukraine, Grigoriy Surkis, president of the country’s football federation, noted the need to "build a new Ukraine... otherwise we won't have such a chance for another 30 to 40 years". The next few weeks will prove decisive in assessing whether Ukraine has been able to rise to the challenge. Saul Pope