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Poland, Ukraine face bumpy road to 2012

China Daily | Updated: 2007-04-20 07:10

WARSAW: Poland and Ukraine will have their work cut out preparing for Euro 2012, facing a mammoth task of getting their stadiums, transport and hotels up to scratch, as well as overcoming a legacy of hooliganism and graft.

Organizers insist they will roll up their sleeves in order to ensure the success of the soccer championships, after Poland and its eastern neighbor's shock win over Italy and fellow joint bidders Hungary and Croatia in the race to host the quadrennial tournament.

In the lead up to Wednesday's decision by European soccer's governing body UEFA at a meeting in Cardiff, the Polish-Ukrainian bidders spared no effort to calm jitters.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski travelled to the Welsh capital with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to make an 11th-hour pitch for their bid.

After the announcement, Kaczynski took stock of what needed to be done.

"We must not forget the enormity of the task of organizing Euro 2012, but that is also excellent news for Poland. There will be new stadiums built in Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan. That can only be seen in a positive light," Kaczynski said.

"Five years is long enough and I am sure that with the mobilization and determination of the local authorities and the people, we will succeed."

It will be the first time that either Poland or Ukraine have hosted a major soccer championship.

Polish authorities said last week that around 26 billion euros ($35 billion), including EU financing, have been earmarked to upgrade infrastructure.

As it stands, a fan wanting to travel by road from Gdansk in northern Poland to Donetsk, a host city in eastern Ukraine, needs stamina to cover the 2,000 kilometers.

The 22-hour trip not counting the lengthy wait at the Polish-Ukrainian border is mostly on single lane roads.

Only 23 kilometers of the trip is on motorway.

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 connecting its major cities. The situation is worse in Ukraine.

And train travel is little better: it currently takes 43 hours, at best, to get from Gdansk to Donetsk.

Lack of investment means it is too dangerous to use high speed trains on the aging tracks.

While booming low-cost airlines carry hundreds of thousands of Poles back and forth to western Europe every year, there are still no cheap links between Ukraine and Poland.

Outside major cities, particularly in Ukraine, good hotels are hard to come by or at least in sufficient numbers to cater for tens of thousands of fans, journalists and soccer officials.

Polish soccer is also blighted by hooliganism.

Fears that Polish fans would cause trouble at last year's World Cup in neighbouring Germany led to a massive police operation in both countries, although in the end the hooligans stayed away.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, foreign embassies regularly warn their citizens about the risk of attacks by skinheads. Poland also has a flourishing far right.

Although Ukraine is currently locked in political crisis pitting supporters of the president and prime minister, its opposing forces are united about Euro 2012.

Four Ukrainian cities selected as venues have already started preparations including upgrading their existing soccer facilities.

And the Kiev mayor's office has said the capital would completely renovate its 86,000-seat Olympic stadium.


(China Daily 04/20/2007 page23)

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