But wait a minute…have UEFA been smoking too many Jamaican cigarettes, or something?We watched with baited breath as UEFA president, Michele Platini (above), stood on stage in Cardiff, Wales, and slowly tore open the envelope. It was between Croatia/Hungary, Italy and Poland/Ukraine. Everyone expected Italy.
Half of me didn’t want Poland to win, as I knew I would have to throw together something about the story in about half an hour. The other half of me – the footballing half (the bits with legs and feet) – wanted Poland to win.
And then the ex-French mid-fielder pulled out the card with the names of the winning bid on it, and the footballing half took over. I emitted that noise men make when a goal is scored:
The same noise slowly echoed through all the offices next to mine and floated, like a Mexican wave, down the corridor.
Then my brain kicked in again, along with the rest of Poland’s. Have the guys in the European football governing body gone out of their tiny minds?
There are a few small problems with Poland and Ukraine being given such a huge sporting event to put on. Here are a just a few of them.
Poland has no…um…decent football stadiums.
Poland’s football governing body was suspended by the government earlier this year because it was not doing enough kicking out the rampant corruption that has taken hold of the domestic game here.
Poland has no decent motorways for fans, players, officials to move around the place.
There are no decent motorways connecting Poland and Ukraine.
Getting across the border by car between Ukraine and Poland takes days.
In five years time Ukraine might even be in the middle of a slightly distracting civil conflict and well on the way to becoming two different countries!
You see the problems.
So what on earth possessed UEFA to come to such a decision? This is huge, elating, news here, but even Poles think they are completely nuts.
The conventional view is that this is all about politics.
It represents the increasing influence of politics and commerce on sports. In terms of Euro 2012 it confirms the direction within UEFA, the European union of soccer nations, whose membership has grown almost twofold since the breakup of the eastern bloc is taking.
Italy had been expected to win the rights to the 2012 event, which is estimated to be worth $3 billion in tourism and construction value.
[But] the Polish government had strayed perilously close to offside and to scuppering the bid when in February it attempted to relieve the national soccer federation president of his status and impose governance from the Sports Ministry.
That followed arrests of 71 people in a soccer match-fixing scandal in Poland’s domestic game on a par with Italy’s – but the interference by government brought Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, to threaten the suspension of Poland from the international soccer family for breaching its statute against political encroachment.
Who can say what caveats were discussed when FIFA hammered out an agreement with Poland’s head of state? Who knows what influence the European Union had in brokering a truce between FIFA and one of its newest member? And who can say what assurances UEFA took from the Ukraine delegation regarding next month’s general election in Kiev?
Blimey! Anyone would think they were talking about the US anti-missile base, not soccer.
Backroom deals for sure there were: but I have a simpler answer as to why the Poles and Ukrainians got the games.
The president of UEFA, Michele Platini, may have once played the game for France in one of the most stylish and beautiful ways any European ever has – but he also stark raving mad.
One of his bright ideas for the game was to ban tackling! That’s a bit like the World Boxing Federation banning punching!
As I write fireworks are going off in Warsaw, so in awe of the prospect of staging the UEFA Championships are the Poles (though my dog is none too impressed by all the noise, and thinks Platini is a complete bastard). So rejoice Poland in a rare international sporting (political) success. But remember that you have stolen sweets from under the nose of a dribbling idiot.