Between football scandals in Poland and political upheavals in Ukraine, in the past couple of months a growing chorus of voices, both from the sporting and political arenas, have begun questioning the wisdom of UEFA’s decision to award the difficult undertaking of co-hosting the 2012 European Championships to the two countries. While as of September UEFA have stuck to their original decision, there is still a chance that the tournament will be taken away if the two countries don’t get their acts together. Below, Wojciech Galon and Jack Cartwright, respectively, debate whether Poland and Ukraine should have been awarded the tournament in the first place.
FOR: You sometimes can’t help feeling that Euro 2012 will take place next summer rather than in just under four years’ time. In the 17 months since UEFA’s landmark decision in Cardiff, the amount of media and public attention devoted to analysing and generally criticising the eligibility and readiness of Poland and Ukraine to host European football’s showcase event has been astounding.
This comes as no surprise considering that both countries have seemingly done everything in their power over this time to confirm what many believed from the start, which is that they were unworthy winners of the UEFA vote. Political crises in Ukraine, a match fixing scandal and contentious government interference into football matters in Poland, along with construction delays in both countries, are probably what most people associate Euro 2012 with at the moment.
Yet, while the media homes in on the shortcomings and false starts, it tends to overlook the fact that important progress, most notably in securing essential funding and developing stadium infrastructure, has been made by both countries in recent months. In prematurely buying into and dwelling upon these alarmist reports, many overlook the reasoning behind UEFA?s decision to award Eastern Europe its first major football event since the European Cup was held in Yugoslavia in 1976.
They thus overlook the potential this decision has in providing a badly needed rebalance of power in football throughout Europe, while also providing two countries hampered by over 40 years of Communist rule with an unprecedented opportunity for civil and economic development.
It’s easy to say that a tournament shouldn?t have been awarded to a particular country as they weren’t ready to host it at the time the announcement was made. The potential of Poland and Ukraine to promote and spur on the development of football in Eastern Europe, however, was a key and logical factor in the decision that will help start a new chapter of an already proud football history in these countries.
Let’s remind ourselves of Portugal, which surprisingly won hosting rights to Euro 2004 ahead of Spain, and despite heavy construction delays and infrastructure problems, created a successful and memorable tournament. Indeed, when compared to Poland and Ukraine, Portugal was in a better position to do so when their successful candidature was announced, yet the example should nonetheless provide inspiration and show that when backs are against the wall, the job can still be done.
UEFA’s desire to stimulate the development of football and associated infrastructure in regions that don?t boast the ultra-modern facilities available to fans in Western Europe should be applauded. While many say the policy is too political, idealistic, and risky, those who hope to one day watch football in conditions that to even small extents resemble the standards set in the West will appreciate its importance, and I daresay, call it pragmatic.
In an age where the influx of unprecedented sums of money has led to commercial interests slowly eating away at football’s core values in the West, it’s a refreshing change to see developmental focus shift elsewhere. By choosing the battered roads of the former Soviet Bloc as the pathway to realising this change, UEFA has no doubt ensured that it will be a bumpy road to Euro 2012, but for the sake of European football, it’s a ride well worth taking.
AGAINST: It was exactly four years ago that Poland launched her joint bid to host Euro 2012. As a naïve Westerner, I thought it a pretty exciting slice of news and was eager to share the scoop with Polish friends. But as it turned out, the Poles were under no illusions. Poland…? Ukraine…? Not in a million years!
For all the mirth that the idea inspired, I might as well have been describing a Polish mission to Mars – with Lech Walesa as captain. And having unwittingly brightened the office with the best joke of the morning, I was swiftly put in the picture as to why the cup could never take place on Polish-Ukrainian soil. Dozens of examples were cited of delayed investment projects that had coughed and spluttered for years or ground to a complete halt. Not least, how could the cup happen with a complete lack of decent roads and stadiums? Then, in April 2007, the unthinkable happened. The golden envelope was opened and Poland and Ukraine came out on top.
Now, you might have thought the Orange Revolution would have sent UEFA’s alarm bells ringing. After all, it doesn?t seem like an Archimedean stroke to give the cup to a country that’s in the throes of political and social upheaval. But of course, the decision to award Poland and Ukraine the cup was largely political. This was about bringing Ukraine into the European fold, and taking it out of the Russian one. There were also humanitarian reasons to burnish the joint proposal. Poles and Ukrainians have had a shaky shared history, yet since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Polish-Ukrainian dialogue has been all about reconciliation (over two thirds of Japanese and South Koreans polled believed that the shared World Cup in 2002 would improve relations between the two Asian countries). Here was a chance for Poland and Ukraine to become friends again.
But the thing is, you can’t just award an event to a country because it’s a “nice idea.” UEFA’s wishful thinking beggars belief. And of course, surprise surprise, within months of the brainwave decision, UEFA was sending out nervous warnings to both countries. Almost every week something new seems to go wrong. Most recently, it was the Austrian construction company pulling out of building stadiums in Ukraine. To add an extra punch of spice, President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved parliament for a second time on October 9th after a further collapse in the ruling coalition. December will mark the third general election in three years, hardly a conducive state of affairs for getting the Euro 2012 show on the (alarmingly pot-holed) road. To cap it all, Poland has now infuriated UEFA by sacking its national football association.
Tellingly, many pundits suggested that Poland fully expected to have the cup taken away at last month’s make-or-break meeting in Bordeaux. A wounded UEFA has now commented that “the trust has been broken.” Well, it’s time to bite the bullet. No more second chances, no more woeful warnings. Scotland has already offered to take over the reins: let?s just admit the mistake and give our kilted friends a crack of the whip. It’s porridge time.