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18/04/2008 1 Comment

A match-fixing scandal and a complacent attitude towards construction may undermine Poland’s ability to co-host Euro 2012

There is a rumour going around that Poland-Ukraine was awarded the rights to host Euro 2012 only by embittered Lennart Johansson acolytes looking to screw up Michel Platini’s reign. It is, almost certainly, nothing more than Stadium kievmischief-making, and yet there was a strange pause as Platini opened the envelope that could, with hindsight, be construed as horror. On that momentous day in Cardiff, west seemed to offer an arm to east and talk of the football family didn’t seem quite so hopelessly utopian, but since then optimism has withered. There are always scare stories ahead of major events, but recent events in Poland suggest these have more substance than most.

Securing the tournament was Michal Listkiewicz’s finest hour, finer even than running the line in the 1990 World Cup final (a photograph of which still adorns the back of his business card). As the president of the Polish football federation (PZPN) spoke about delivering a great victory for the family of Slavs, it was possible even to forget for a moment that it isn’t just his hair that has appeared to be made of Teflon.

In JFK, Kevin Costner, playing the New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, describes the men he believes responsible for the Kennedy assassination as “dancing through the raindrops” without ever getting wet. Listkiewicz has spent the last nine years polkaing through a thunderstorm and only now has he got the soaking that’s been coming.

He survived a welter of criticism. He survived being suspended by his own sports ministry. But finally, he and the entire governing board of the Polish Football Federation have resigned. Or at least, have announced they will resign, which is not quite the same thing. They will step down on September 14, three months before they would have had to face re-election anyway. “We want to save this federation and we want to save Polish football,” Listkiewicz insisted. Eight years too late, some would say.

The crisis has been brought to a head by prosecutors in Wroclaw, who in 2005 finally launched an investigation into corruption and match-fixing. Although no one has yet been prosecuted, 117 people – players, referees, coaches and officials – have been charged, with 29 clubs implicated. Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biala have been docked points, while seven clubs will be demoted one division in the summer, among them the four-times champions Widzew Lodz who, given they are lying third-bottom at the moment, could find themselves in the third flight next season. “We’ve done a lot, but it was too little, too late,” Listkiewicz said. “But the facts say that we’ve tried to fight the problem. We just didn’t have the proper tools. We reacted to events, and we didn’t pre-empt the threats, and that must change.”

The failure to deal with endemic corruption, though, is just part of the story. For whatever brilliance of politicking or presentation it was that earned Poland-Ukraine the right to host Euro 2012, that project has gone badly off the rails since. Marcin Herra, a former director of the oil company Lotos, was – finally – appointed to oversee the Polish end of planning for Euro 2012 last month. “This project can’t help but succeed,” he said, which may have been the sort of reassurance Poland needed, but it does hint at a complacency that is, frankly, worrying.

In Ukraine there are ongoing problems in Lviv, the smallest of the venues, but clear plans for the other three stadia.stadium donieck 1 Shakhtar Donetsk’s new ground is within a couple of months of completion. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s is late, but will be ready later this year. The problems over the shopping-centre that was blocking an access-route to the new national stadium in Kyiv have been resolved. They have all drawn up plans, begun to put them in practice, discovered problems and resolved them. In Poland, though, there’s still a lot of talk and precious little concrete, literal or figurative.

It isn’t even clear yet which four venues will be used, with a final decision to be taken by Uefa next month on whether to stick with the quartet originally chosen – Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk and Poznan – or to instead move to one of the reserve venues of Krakow and Chorzow, where the existing football infrastructure is more advanced.

Plans have at last been presented for the 65,000-seater national stadium in Warsaw. It looks impressive and the government has agreed to fund it, but building work has not started and it is not scheduled to be completed until spring 2011 – Uefa has urged all works connected with the tournament to be finished by 2010. It is all very well to talk about the central location, and the waving flag motifs, but will it be ready? The government has also agreed to pay a third of the costs towards the stadia in Wroclaw, Gdansk and Poznan, but it remains unclear where the rest of the money will come from. Already the politically sensitive decision has had to be taken to bring in a Chinese firm to improve the road network.

“Uefa will judge not only stadiums but also airports, hotels, the transport infrastructure, issues of the safety and medical facilities,” said Herra. “In different towns, the situation is different. Uefa on the one hand has pointed at the risks with the investment and the short time period remaining. But on the other hand they liked what we have done in the last few weeks, establishing one co-ordinating centre.

“What is crucial is to fulfil all the Uefa requirements by 2010. We know precisely what we have to do. We know how many toilets there have to be at each stadium, where the TV cameras have to be and how far the pitch must be from the stands. We have to work so that, as well as our wonderful history, our emotions, the great matches we have played and the concerts we have organised, we have stadia that fulfil the criteria.”

Which is positive, but it’s the sort of speech that could have been made six months ago: the time for talking of history and emotion really should be over by now. There are still too many words and not enough digging. After the scathing Uefa report in January, which suggested Poland and Ukraine had four to six months to get their house in order, Platini reiterated last month that they had to “wake up”. Herra, at least, is independent from the PZPN, but it cannot help that their board are in a five-month winding-down period. The attitude in Poland seems to be that Uefa will not strip them of hosting rights because it would be too big an embarrassment; at the moment, the danger is that letting them go ahead would be a greater one.

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