Two cities prepare for Euro 2012
- 28 February 2012
- From the section Europe
Six months before the start of Europe's biggest football event of 2012, Poland and Ukraine, the co-hosts of the European Championships, still face major challenges.
For now, the focus is on the 16 teams in Friday's Euro 2012 draw in Kiev, but the eight cities chosen to host the event will soon come under close scrutiny.
At the moment, the area around the stadium in Lviv in western Ukraine resembles a building site. Located on the outskirts, it is the city's most expensive project in 20 years of Ukrainian independence and it is not yet complete.
In November - 200 days before Euro 2012 - the tournament director in Ukraine, Markian Lubkivsky, said nobody could give an exact timeline for the completion of infrastructure works at the Lviv stadium.
Lack of investors
Construction of the 30,000-seat arena was hit by delays as private investors did not come forward, as the authorities expected, and the government had to pay up.
"The idea of private funding for the stadium was an illusion. In 2007, we thought we could find investors to build a stadium although there were only a few such examples," says Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi.
"Stadiums and airports for the World Cup in Germany or the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland were built by the state. And that's right, because it is an object that doesn't offer direct return. That's a matter of prestige and sports development."
According to former lawmaker Teodor Diakiv, the cost of the project increased over three years from 57m euros to about 180m.
The stadium in Lviv may be ready in time but what lies outside is more of a worry. The plan was to turn the area into a major business hub. For now, there is little to show for it.
Lviv has always been considered one of Ukraine's major tourist destinations.
Historians say the city has survived more than 30 wars, storms and fires, and has always risen from the ashes.
"For Lviv, football fans are not the most important part of the upcoming championship. Much more important is who arrives after the tournament," says historian Ihor Lylo.
Pope John Paul II's 2001 visit to the city helped raise tourist numbers. But over the past two years, Lviv has witnessed a 40% increase. No other European city can boast of such figures, according to research from the Lausanne School of hotel business.
Police in Lviv are actively preparing for the arrival of football fans in collaboration with colleagues from Poland and other countries, holding regular exercises for special units.
The officer given responsibility for Euro 2012 in Lviv, Vasyl Ryaboshapko, has warned that hooligans listed in the European databases may be refused entry to the country by the border services.
"Before the tournament, specific work will be carried out to ensure that these aggressive fans do not get into Ukraine. A blacklist is not something permanent, but has a definite effect nonetheless."
Security is particularly important for Lviv. Its mayor has confirmed that the city intends to make a bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Twinned with Lviv is the Polish city of Wroclaw, whose authorities initially decided to make their new stadium a municipal project, paid for with a 14-year loan.
"Just like all the other cities there have been problems over the last four years. We changed builders two years ago, but now it's well under control and we can say it's over," says Hanna Domagala, director of the Euro 2012 bureau in Wroclaw.
The main concern for Wroclaw's organisers is logistics. The stadium is close to the airport and their biggest task moving thousands of fans from the city centre before the match.
For now, the journey seems a little like an obstacle course.
"They put a lot of money into the stadium. But I still can't face driving here because of all the traffic jams. So I had to take the tram instead. It's slow and packed," says local fan Michal.
He came for Wroclaw's inaugural international match: a friendly between Poland and Italy and the brand new 40,000-capacity stadium's first real test.
In October, police in Lower Silesia decided that the stadium did not comply with safety requirements. But permission to host matches has now been granted.
The city's organisers are confident the arena will continue to attract spectators after Euro 2012 as the home of local club Slask Wroclaw.
Six years ago, the team playеd in the third league of Polish football but now they are back in the top flight.
"When I was here two years ago all I could see was mud and rocks. Today, I see an exceptional, outstanding stadium," Uefa President Michel Platini told a news conference in Wroclaw.
When asked to comment on the city's infrastructure, Mr Platini said he saw no problems but added that the city had to focus on looking after its visitors.
Wroclaw's 200 taxi drivers have been given a special training programme in preparation for the event, including a 60-hour English language course and a series of lectures on the organisation of the tournament.
After all, theirs will often be the first faces seen by visitors to the city.
"A big event awaits us. I'm learning English so I can understand fans and other people who will be coming to Poland. I can't say that there is a lot of interest in the courses among taxi drivers, but learning English is voluntary," says taxi driver Grzegorz Malinowski.
As for the delays to Wroclaw's planning for Euro 2012, officials insist that they are not critical and will not affect the tournament itself.
"It was planned that the projects would be completed sooner," says Dariusz Kowalczyk, Secretary of Lower Silesia Province of which Wroclaw is capital. "But the airport, station, stadium, and motorways from Poland's south and west borders are all either ready or soon will be."
According to Mr Kowalczyk, about 1.5bn euros have been allocated for construction works from EU funds as well as government, regional and town budgets.
Regional authorities hope for a 25% increase in tourism after the event.
While Wroclaw appears closer to readiness than Lviv, organisers in both cities know that they still have much to do before the start of the tournament. But it is clear that the prize could be a long-term boost to their regional economies.