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EURO-2012: Territory of Hopes and Expectations

European football championships are rated by market researchers as third most significant sporting events of the modern age, after only the Olympic Games and World Football Cup tournaments. Hence the heightened attention to the Euro 2012 project, which for the first time in the competitions history was entrusted to Eastern European countries fourteen months ago.

What kind of impressions are UEFA guests taking away from Ukraine? What kind of decisions did they come to after heart-to-heart conversations with presidents and prime ministers? Do they regret that the UEFA Executive Committee ever selected the joint Ukraine-Poland bid on April 18, 2007, having rejected apparently stronger bids from Italy and Croatia/Hungary? And what to do next with our Cardiff award?

Pathos and pessimism

Based on what the mass media are writing and saying today, the situation is very grave. But office holders, instead of a substantive review of the matter, cannot offer the public anything more useful than empty declarations full of undue optimism. National television channels, under the guise of social information advertisements, are promoting dubious scenarios for saving Euro 2012 or crying out that Ukraine has ended up in a bad way. Newspapers are riddled with headlines such as Is Ukraine set to lose Euro 2012 and when?, as though this is a done deal already. In advance of any a little bit significant talk with UEFA officials, we, displaying our impotence, begin to read counterclockwise

Meanwhile, UEFA itself, based on official press reports on the results of UEFA teams on-day tours to Kyiv and Warsaw, does not seem to regret its decision at all. UEFA President Platini, who called his most recent visits to Ukraine and Poland to be timely and highly informative, reiterates every now and then that his agency does not even consider any alternative or contingency scenarios. Can we take his word for it or not? Most likely, Platini really means what he says.

Indeed, its against UEFAs principles to go back on strategic decisions once made, even though UEFA officials are admitting straightforwardly that the current pace of Euro 2012 preparatory work both in Poland and Ukraine is far too slow. And the visit by Platini has only confirmed this.

As things stand now, the situation isnt all that bad, even though timetables for some specific areas of the Euro 2012 preparation program have to be updated already. Problems of this kind are not unique to Ukraine and Poland, as difficulties of various types had to be dealt with by host countries of previous tournaments as well, specifically, the Netherlands/Belgium in 2000, Portugal in 2004 and even Austria/Switzerland in 2008.

Hunger for Information

Dim views and pessimism prevail in the Ukrainian mass media and the minds of football fans. Why is it so? One of the reasons for the aggressive intolerance that reigns in the Ukrainian media consists in hunger for information. This is not only about readers or viewers but journalists as well, and this is less their fault but more their trouble. The public, deprived of informative, detailed news from those who are supposed to provide it, have nothing to consume but thrice-told mix of propaganda and loose talk. Now we will try and fill in the gap, at least, in part.

Firstly, let us sort out who is responsible for what during preparations for European football tournaments in general and Euro 2012 in particular.

The Union of European Football Associations is the sole and exclusive owner of all the rights that in some way or another relate to the football finals tournament. But this organization, which brings together football associations from 53 nations, does not have territory of its own other than a head office building sitting on the picturesque banks of the Lake of Geneva. Therefore, it has to enter into contractual relations with the countries it selects itself in a multistage bidding process.

The bid to host the Euro 2012 finals tournament was jointly won by Ukraine and Poland, who subsequently signed a standard contract with UEFA. The contract, by the way, will remain valid until the middle of 2013, which entitles the European football authorities to safeguard intellectual property rights involved with the competition (official symbols, the logo, video footage of matches played etc) during 12 months after completion of the event.

Responsibilities of host parties represented by national football association of Ukraine and Poland cover the following domains:

  • Ensuring security, law and order;
  • Availability of stadiums;
  • Condition of readiness of host cities;
  • Condition of readiness of training facilities and official buildings;
  • Accommodation of participating teams and visiting fans;
  • Safeguarding UEFAs and its partners commercial interests;
  • The provision of transport;
  • The provision of technical support and image advertising support;
  • The provision of medical services
  • Visa and customs support
  • Promotional activities.

The host party is also supposed to help UEFA in:

  • Compiling tournament schedules;
  • Outlining a concept for ticketing program;
  • Accreditation of journalists and mass media outlets;
  • Settlement of protocol matters;
  • Organization of matches.

The amount of work like that, understandably enough, would be beyond power of public organizations such as the Football Federation of Ukraine or the Polish Football Association. Therefore, the two, while signing contracts with UEFA, should reinforce their obligations with guarantees of support from their respective national governments. So important are the guarantees that a bid lacking such guarantees has no chances of even being short-listed.

Final say rests with the UEFA

UEFA, for its part, is in charge of ensuring that each and all of the aforementioned requirements be complied with in full and in due time. It also provides day-to-day supervision of other work that needs to be done simultaneously or may need to be coordinated with preparation measures for the tournament. Whatever the case, final say rests invariably with top UEFA officials. To ensure that these program provisions are inserted into the contract to be signed between the UEFA on the one hand and Ukraine and Poland on the other, the parties agreed to set up an entity of some kind an UEFAs commercial partner and a successor to the EURO 2008 S.A. that successfully supported the Austrian-Swiss finals.

By the way, UEFA has earned more than 700 million euros (in excess of one billion US dollars) from Euro2008, which is five percent up on what EURO 2004 S.A. made four years ago in Portugal. According to usually reliable sources, the amount of earnings could be even greater if it hadnt been for a television coverage failure in the second half of the semi-final between Germany and Turkey. A thunderstorm over Vienna caused technical difficulties in the International Broadcast Center, which relayed the television feed from the match, resulting in one or more goals being missed by various audiences. This mishap and other troubles during the Alpine EURO, understandably, will be taken into account in preparations for the next tournament.

Its reasonable to assume that it wont be long before EURO 2012 S.A. comes to be. The exact time has yet to be determined, but the advent of this entity is impending. Authorized representatives of Ukrainian authorities, sporting as well as political, will be delegated to represent Ukraine in that body. The board of the company will most likely integrate a representative of the Ukrainian Football Federation, along with a Cabinet member vested with all the requisite rights and powers. Whatever the case, as demonstrated by practical experience in the organization of the two previous tournaments, the majority in voting on issues of any kind will invariably belong to UEFA representatives.

Football experts believe that EURO 2012 S.A. will make preparations for the next edition of the European football competition more systematic, to which end a number of high-level professionals will be involved in the project. It is no accident that executive director of the Portuguese and Austrian/Swiss versions of the S.A. (Anonymous Society) Martin Callen visited (not for the first time) Kyiv and Warsaw among the team of UEFAs top ten managers. This pragmatic, highly mobile and advanced Swiss, prior to his UEFA appointment, was teaching marketing, finance and commercial mathematics at the highest rated colleges and universities in Europe, and he also accomplished much in the business of football.

A company similar to EURO 2008 S.A. came along just one and a half year prior to the EURO 2004 finals in Portugal, when a government crisis in that country brought to power new leaders who called into question the obligations assumed by their predecessors. The crisis came very close to the point where talk was about relocating the tournament to Spain. So realistic was the threat that the new leaders swore off their refusal in public and confirmed their commitments concerning EURO 2004. Still, in order to minimize risks, a joint-stock company was set up with UEFA and the government of Portugal as co-founders.

The novelty turned out to be so successful that in 2008 UEFA, having encountered equally difficult problems (lack of coordination between legislative frameworks of Austria and Switzerland and also between the latters cantons), did not come to reinventing the wheel. Instead, Mr. Callen signed separate agreements with each of the eight host cities, thereby easily settling the already imminent crisis. The European championship, as before, was held at the highest level, and it will most likely be declared to be best organized European finals tournament in the history of the competition.

Problem issue: stadiums

As far as we here in Ukraine can judge, neither Ukraine nor Poland has raised any of the admittedly unsolvable problems with UEFA. Still, Michel Platinis team had reason to chide the presidents and prime ministers of the two countries, specifically, for their failure to use the 14-month time preliminary preparation period to the greatest extent possible. Particularly, this is concerns the National Sporting Complex Olympic, the prospective venue of the final match. Like some other venues allocated for the tournament, Olympic is to be fully available only in June 2010. But, in fact, renovation documents are not in place to date, neither has a general contractor been identified. The only sign of progress is beginning of demolition work at the nearby site, the shopping and entertainment center Troitsky.

The prospect that a new stadium will be built on time in Lviv is equally bleak, as a definite decision as to the exact location of the site was made only recently. Additionally, less significant issues such as construction budget, for example, still remain unresolved. For this reason, the deadline for submission of final documents on the matter has been extended until September 25 (that date has been identified well in advance of Platinis visits to Kyiv and Warsaw), when UEFA Executive Committee is expected to accept a Ukrainian-Polish infrastructure location plan, which will subsequently serve as the foundation of a national Euro 2012 preparation program.

It must be said that by the September gathering, which is scheduled to take place in the UEFA Presidents home city of Bordeaux, Ukraine is preparing not only a work report but also completing the construction of a new stadium (to be known as Dnipro) in Dnipropetrovsk. This, when coupled with the planned commissioning of a new home stadium for the Sharkhtar football club of Donetsk, will mark the passing of the first two important milestones in the preparation program.

Another domain where Ukraine is lagging behind is the provision of the required regulatory framework for the Euro 2012 Championship, whose consolidated Ukrainian budget will top out at 125 billion hryvnias. Even though the lions share (80%, to be more precise) of this huge sum will be accounted for by borrowed capital, potential investors have never seen any sizeable interest on the part of the authorities. Many of them acknowledge that what prevents their coming here are gaps in the legislation concerning, in the first place, taxation, concessions, partnership between the State and private businesses, land ownership rights, construction and attraction of investment. The Verkhovna Rada, tried to change this situation by January 1 of this year, but things havent budged an inch since then. This is a demonstrative example of how the Ukraine complies with its obligations concerning the provision of national-level support for the project

Infrastructure for accommodating Euro 2012 participating teams and tens of thousands of visitors is awaiting fundamental reconstruction as well. In addition to about three dozen state-of-the-art training complexes that could be licensed by UEFA - UEFA will likely license about half of them for accommodation of the 16 national teams that qualify for the final round - Ukraine is supposed to provide countless hotel rooms and other infrastructure to accommodate hundreds of thousands of visiting fans, as well as journalists, service employees and VIPs.

The European football officials, well realizing the specifics of Ukraine (where the lions share of the existing infrastructure has been are leftovers from the Soviet days, together with certification standards, Federal standards etc), do not require new districts to be built up in host cities, but urge the authorities to launch strategic planning work to remove part of accommodation load from host cities through construction of accommodations in other regions of the country.

Simultaneously, UEFA recommends that Ukraine organize national promotional campaigns and reinforce its image as a tourist attraction, concurrently expanding its domestic market by providing support for national tour operators, complementing transport corridors with the required tourism infrastructure and building up a network of information centers. Based on the experience gained from previous EURO tournaments, the national and local authorities have been also recommended to consider developing a network of one-stop investment shops to cut the number of registration procedures needed for transparent allocation of land plots for the construction of hotels.

Transport Revolution

Ukrainian authorities are also willingly heeding to UEFAs recommendations concerning a sizeable expansion of domestic transportation flows. Truly revolutionary reforms envisaged in this domain are expected to help Ukraine increase dramatically the capacity of its three dozen airports. Thanks to Euro 2012, Ukrainian airports will obtain state-of-the-art terminals with a sufficient traffic capacity, and new airlines will come to the domestic passenger airline market. Ukrainian airlines will also be able to provide European-standard passenger service and aircraft maintenance, and expand their global route networks. So great is the scope of work to be done in this field that even if envisaged projects are successfully completed at all of the target airports the required level of gross traffic capacity would not be accomplished anyway!

For example, if the metropolitan Olympic stadium is designed for 70,000 viewers, the airports in the vicinity of the capital city must have the capacity to handle 35,000 passengers every day - these proportions are relevant for other cities to host the group stage matches. Preliminary calculations suggest that in the best case scenario, Ukraine will not be able to do more than 70-80% of the amount of work it is supposed to do to comply with these requirements, but even this figure looks fantastic if you consider what is yet to be done.

No less ambitious tasks are facing Ukraines domestic passenger carriers and municipal transport companies. As evidenced by the experience of EURO 2008 football tournament that was jointly hosted by Austria and Switzerland, up to 60 percent of the overall passenger traffic between host cities is accounted for by overland transport. What kind of problems is Ukraine facing with here? Judge for yourself:

  • The condition of roads, bus stations, motorway service infrastructure, railway infrastructure and railway vehicles is unsatisfactory;
  • The State target-oriented program of preparations for the EURO 2012 football tournament does not make any provisions for the construction, reconstruction or renovation of bus stations;
  • No provisions are made either for the improvement and expansion of motorway service infrastructure for mainstream routes;
  • EURO 2012 preparation programs make no provisions for improving the condition of motor roads connecting backup airports with host cities;
  • As accommodations for visiting fans are planed to be constructed within a range of up to 100 kilometers from host cities, provisions must be made for motor/railroad traffic with an adequate capacity;
  • Coordination of preparation works with Poland is apparently insufficient;
  • Provisions are made for the purchase of only seven high-speed trains, which, understandably, would be clearly inadequate to the expected amount of passenger traffic.

How do you like UEFAs demands such as updating programs for railway infrastructure and stock renovation and introducing mechanisms for monitoring implementation of the programs; commencing work for the building of more border and customs checkpoints; or developing motorway service infrastructure improvement programs, in addition to efficient land allotment mechanisms for attracting more investors

This is what concerns trunk traffic. Now let us briefly mention municipal transport, keeping in mind that up to 80% of passenger traffic during the EURO 2008 Austrian-Swiss final round was accounted for by municipal transport. The problems Ukraine will have to tackle with in this domain are the following:

Host cities must have well developed transportation networks connecting venues of football competitions with airports, with the overall traffic handling capacity of the entire network being equal to the minimum possible traffic capacity of any of the three components of the system (stadium -transport network- airport). Traffic capacity of overland transport routes must be proportionate to passenger capacity of the airport in the respective host city, and it must be brought in line with the demands placed on admitting viewers into the stadium.

The State target-oriented program of preparations for EURO 2012 does not make provisions for renovating the existing bus fleet, nor does it provide for building traffic control systems in cities other than Kyiv.

What has to be done? First of all, it is necessary to set up a clear-cut vertical administrative structure for managing municipal transport network renovation programs, with officials to be put in charge of implementation of the program to be vested with wide-ranging powers, up to emergency powers (by the way, this recommendation is relevant not only to transport infrastructure renovation programs but other initiatives, as well).

The countrys top leaders once again reiterated during talks with the distinguished visitors that for Ukraine to organize the EURO 2012 tournament at the highest possible level is a matter of national dignity. Just one small thing is lacking: this is preparedness (and the ability) to turn promises into action and real deeds.

By Online Publication of "Zerkalo nedeli"

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