UEFA happy with Euro 2012 progress with one year to go
Kiev: One year to the day before Euro 2012 kicks off, co-hosts Poland and Ukraine are still facing huge challenges but European soccer`s governing body UEFA has no real concerns about the tournament`s viability.
UEFA`s secretary general Gianni Infantino said the problems facing the first eastern European countries to host a soccer event of such a size were "just typical" and would not impact on the tournament, while UEFA`s Euro 2012 director Martin Kallen added that although he wished that preparations were further advanced, there were no real problems.
Adding a dash of glitz and sheen to the claims, UEFA "employed" Aleksandre Yaroslavskyy, the billionaire owner of Ukraine`s top flight Metalist Kharkiv club -- personal worth estimated at around $3.5 billion -- to meet international journalists on an organised tour of all eight venue cities in four days.
He was happy to show them around his club and city and leave them in no doubt that Ukraine has a "can-do" attitude to the event.
The charismatic Yaroslavskyy took the microphone on the tour bus, and after sharing his lunchtime strawberries with the press, said that Euro 2012 was Ukraine`s chance to "show the world what we can do".
Yaroslavskyy has invested $265 million of his own money into the local infrastructure, including $100 million for the new airport terminal.
"We have made great progress ... and working on Euro 2012 I haven`t had one minute of rest in four years," he added.
Kharkiv, just 40 miles (60kms) from the Russian border, is one of the four Ukraine host cities along with Donetsk, Lviv and the capital Kiev and, while its stadium is finished as is the hugely impressive Donbass Arena in Donetsk, there is still work to be done in Lviv and Kiev where the stadiums are around half-completed.
Kallen told reporters: "I wish they were a bit further advanced, but we can live with it at the moment. Poland and Ukraine are ahead of Portugal 2004 at the same stage but behind Austria and Switzerland 2008 -- I`d say they were around 7 out of 10, they are a bit behind what they promised, but they are making great progress, you can see the changes month by month."
The stadium in Lviv, a stunning city close to the Polish border with more than 90 UNESCO heritage listed buildings, has struggled with its stadium since the tournament was awarded to the two countries in 2007, and there is some doubt that a planned friendly against Austria in November might be postponed, or moved away.
There are also problems, generally with a lack of hotel rooms and some projects not being completed like a planned rail link between Kiev airport and the city centre, but generally, UEFA is happy.
"I admit the Lviv stadium is a challenge," said Kallen. "It may be the Austria game has to be switched to somewhere else but the stadium will definitely be ready by the finals, I would say certainly by the New Year at the latest."
Kallen was speaking on the day a report in Poland, issued by the Supreme Audit Office said that delays in updating Poland`s transport infrastructure threaten its ability to successfully host the tournament.
The country`s top audit agency said: "Euro 2012 preparations have visibly advanced. But the scale of delays, abandoned projects and poorly implemented investments is so significant that it may threaten the smooth running of the tournament."
If he was bothered by the report from Warsaw, UEFA`s Infantino was not showing it.
"There is one issue common to all these events, which is that if you look at all the work that has been done in a very short period of time, in order to make it happen, it is clear you will have criticism because there are issues that have to be dealt with," he said.
"Work that would normally take 20 years to complete, has taken four years, so there are some problems. But basically as long as the problems do not impact on the competition, the problems which may arise will not cause us too much bother."
Ukraine`s Euro 2012 minister Borys Kolesnikov said he had every confidence in Ukraine`s ability to stage the event.
"A country with a planned post-Soviet economy and corresponding infrastructure will always arouse a lack of confidence. But in the past year we have achieved significant progress in preparations for the Championship and I think that this lack of confidence has gone now."
And he echoed Infantino`s views when he said: "We have come through a very significant period particularly in terms of infrastructure -- we leapt across a huge gap."