Euro Countdown: Trouble in Ukraine

With Euro 2012 rapidly approaching, the many concerns about Ukraine’s ability to host the tournament are becoming increasingly worrisome.

Ever since 2004, when UEFA awarded Euro 2012 to Poland-Ukraine, questions have been asked about the infrastructure of the two countries. When I drove through a part of Poland to get to some mountains in the Czech Republic, I could tell exactly when we entered and exited Poland. The road quality became much poorer.

The critics’ claims appeared to be justified during most of 2011, with many of the stadiums only half-ready. A host country has never come so close to not having the stadiums ready as either Poland or Ukraine, although it looks like Brazil 2014 might break that record.

Ukraine has made huge progress in the last year, and all of their stadiums and airports are now ready for the tournament.

The picture is not as rosy in Poland, where the opening of the National Stadium in Warsaw, due to host the opening game, was postponed twice over an eight month span. When it did open, the hosts impressed defensively,thoroughly earning their 0-0 draw with Portugal. Meanwhile, the Wroclaw stadium is currently closed because the electrical system is not up to UEFA standards.

The transportation situation is even worse. Only 40% of the planned road work will be finished by June 8th, and none of the motorways connecting the host cities will be completed. There will be no motorway between Poznan and Wroclaw. The rail transportation is not of a very high standard.

Nevertheless, 13 of the 16 teams have decided to base themselves within the Polish borders, not necessarily because of anything appealing about the country, but rather because of the situation in Ukraine.

UEFA has noted many transport and logistic problems in Ukraine. The country responded by importing 1, 000 buses into Kiev and many trains  onto their out of date railways.

Nevertheless, accommodation is expected to be a major problem. And, according to Igor Miroshnichenko, “not one city in Ukraine can compete with Polish cities in terms of logistics and comfort of transportation.”

Many of the problems voiced in the last year have disappeared, but only after heavy government spending, far higher than originally planned. This is a normal headline right before tournaments, and similar news has come out of Poland (which spent one-third of what Ukraine did), but it is exacerbated by Ukraine’s relative poverty, at least by European standards. A very telling recent poll of Ukrainians showed many of the same economic concerns.

Another test came at the opening of the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex, the Kiev stadium which will, unless Polish conservatives get their way, host the Euro 2012 final.

The narrow turnstiles caused a large proportion of the 68, 000 attending the match to get stuck outside the north gate. Only one person per minute could pass through, and a squeeze started. Soon the gates broke, but the crowd were held back by stadium security.

Everything considered, Ukraine and Poland have made enormous gains in terms of infrastructure, but the games in Ukraine could be played in front of half-empty crowds. There is no reason a rational fan would choose to attend a game in Ukraine, especially with hotel costs rising by about 800% for the tournament, over a game in Poland, assuming they had no rooting interest.

Boycott

All of these concerns have been overshadowed by talk of a boycott of the tournament in Ukraine. A Central European summit hosted by Ukraine is also being boycotted. Germany has taken the lead in promoting the boycott, while Russia quickly defended Ukraine.

A political debate quickly started in Poland, with the two main political parties disagreeing about the issue. The Civic Platform party is supporting their fellow co-hosts, while the Law and Justice party wants the final moved to Warsaw, at the very least.

An opinion article in favor of the boycott appeared in the Kyiv Post. You can read about Ukraine’s response to the news here.

More Controversy

Poland had avoided the level of controversy Ukraine is receiving– stories about measles, dog killings, and police scandals also spread across the internet like wild-fire–until the recent story about sonic cannons broke out.

Perhaps more concerning are the bombs that recently hit Dnipropetrovsk. The government, terrorists, and radicals trying to disrupt Euro 2012 have all been blamed.

Hooliganism

Lastly, both countries are famous for football hooliganism and racism. A quick google search of “Ukraine euro 2012 racism” reveals many shocking articles. Even if half of them aren’t true, the number of articles on the subject tell you that something is wrong. England play all of their group stage games in Ukraine, and both their players and fans have been warned of racism.

Last Eastern European Host?

The security fears before South Africa 2010 proved largely unfounded, vanishing once the games kicked off. Will Poland-Ukraine be the same? A poor performance by the co-hosts could also be the last hosting performance by a eastern European country in a major sporting tournament.

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