KEIR RADNEDGE in Kyiv
— KYIV: Local football boss Grygoriy Surkis has revealed, for the first time, how close Ukraine came to losing the right to host part or all of the 2012 European Championship.
Ukraine will co-host next year’s finals with neighbours, the first time such a high-profile tournament has been awarded to eastern Europe. But at times the venture teetered on the brink, particularly after the global financial crisis brought prepatory work to a standstill.
The draw for the 16-team finals is being staged Friday night in the Ukraine Palace of Arts in the capital, Kyiv, with a live television audience across 150 countries. But less than a year ago Surkis could not have been confident.
Failure, he told a media conference in the newly-rebuilt Olympic Stadium which will host the Euro Final, would have damaged Ukraine’s image not only in the sporting world but in terms of its ambitions for European integration and ultimate European Union membership.
Surkis said: “When we started on the bid journey it seemed something fantastic and almost unachievable. But it became reality in 2007 when [UEFA president] Michel Platini received the piece of paper with the name of Poland and Ukraine on it.
“Now we can appreciate the patience and wisdom of UEFA in its approach towards the problems involved, especially towards Ukraine because we had to create a new infrastructure not only for sport but for all the other segments – airports, runaways, new motorways.
“We had to modernise the entire country and without UEFA’s patience we couldn’t have been where we are sitting here today. I would also also pay tribute to UEFA’s general secretary [Gianni Infantino] who would have faced an enormous challenge if Ukraine had not proved able to fulfil the guarantees.”
In May 2009 UEFA had considered using six venues in Poland and only two in Ukraine. Surkis said that Platini, after meeting Ukraine’s state president 18 months ago, had said: “I trust this man – but I cannot believe that within such a short term it will be possible to prove that your country will be completely ready.”
Eventually, this past September, Platini had spoken out publicly to acknowledge that Ukraine would be ready, after all; that a few minor problems remained but nothing which could be resolved by next June.
Surkis recalled that the former Soviet Union had achieved remarkable achievements by the use of five-year plans but what Ukraine had managed was an 18-month plan.
He added: “Never in the past 20 or 30 years had there been such pressure to upgrade a country’s entire infrastructure in so short a time. In 2008 Switzerland and Austria just had to adapt existing facilities but we had to create practically an entire new national infrastructure.”
Surkis thought that if Ukraine had been scrapped as a host the country’s prospects of closer European integration would have been damaged massively. He also thought UEFA’s eventual expression of confidence had been a key factor in FIFA’s decision – exactly a year ago – to award the 2018 World Cup hosting to Russia.
Infantino, echoing Surkis’s words, said: “There were quite a lot of ups and downs and the executive meeting we had in Bordeaux two years ago was crucial to the whole process. Now what has been done is really surprising. Work has been done in three or four years which usually needs 20 years.
“There were a few hot moments and some hot disussions as well but I think they brought our respective teams closer together to make history . . . it will have a a major impact on these two nations far beyond next summer.”