Poland and Ukraine win the race to host Euro 2012. Steve Menary reports

Was UEFA’s decision to award Euro 2012 to Poland and Ukraine really just extra punishment for match-fixing scandals and hooliganism in the favourite, Italy? The Italians had, after all, hosted the European Championship in 1968 and 1980 – albeit just four- and eight-team events respectively – and a World Cup in 1990. Poland and Ukraine have not hosted an international tournament of note. Apart from a four-team European Championship in Yugoslavia in 1976, no major tournament has ever been staged in eastern Europe.

A week before the decision, two Polish clubs, Arka Gdynia and Gornik Leczna, were forcibly relegated as part of a long investigation into widespread match fixing but UEFA may have made its mind up by then. On taking over as UEFA president in January, Michel Platini said he wanted to help eastern European clubs by giving them extra Champions League places, to be taken away from the major western European leagues. The usual selfish mutterings from the big clubs and associations about how to sabotage this altruistic plan followed.

For Platini, the best way of signalling intent to those who would conspire against him was to ensure that Euro 2012 went to Poland and Ukraine. But will the fans have to bear the brunt of this controversial decision? Soviet-era border controls may frustrate those crossing between two of the biggest countries in Europe. Poland is increasingly opening up to tourism and Ryanair flies direct from London to three venues, Gdansk, Poznan and Wroclaw. Easyjet, on the other hand, flies to Warsaw from Gatwick. Reaching some Ukrainian venues is a very different proposition. Kiev and Lvov are easily accessible but a trip to Donetsk, with one stopover, takes nine hours. If you want to watch a game in Dnipropetrovsk, prepare for a long day of travelling – currently there are no direct flights. There are trains but, even with the proposed investment in transport, these are unlikely to match the sleek standard set to be provided in Austria and Switzerland next summer.

Then there are the stadiums. Work is necessary at all the nominated venues, a number of which have running tracks around the pitch. Grounds in Lvov and Dnipropetrovsk will only be 90 per cent covered and half of Warsaw’s 50,000 seats will be open to the elements. A revamp of Chorzow’s Slaski stadium was underway a year ago to provide a 54,000-seat, covered ground, only for Chorzow to be downgraded to reserve venue status and replaced by Poznan.

The cost of stadium work is more than £400 million with Donetsk’s new 50,000-seat stadium costing £100m alone. That project is being funded by the club’s owner, Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian oligarch who made his money out of the privatisation of the country’s steel industry, a process which put him into direct conflict with his government and other vested interests – two of Akhemtov’s business colleagues have been assassinated. One UK building firm, Bovis Lend Lease, pulled out of the contract to construct the Shaktar stadium although the project eventually went ahead.

Hotel, food and drink prices will of course be ramped up for western European fans in five years’ time. More importantly however, compared to Euro 2008, far more people will get the opportunity to see matches. Next summer, six of the eight stadiums hold just 30,000. Providing work is completed, all but two of the eight grounds in Poland and the Ukraine will hold 40,000 or many more. The final in Kiev will be watched by 77,000 fans – compared to just 50,000 in Vienna. Euro 2012 will certainly be different to its predecessors. Platini and UEFA will be hoping that their decision makes a difference too.

From WSC 244 June 2007. What was happening this month

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