KEIR RADNEDGE in Barcelona: UEFA did not understand the differences between Poland and Ukraine and thus under-estimated the difficulties they would meet in co-hosting the Euro 2012 finals.
The European federation’s executive committee voted for the ground-breaking eastern European partnership in the spring of 2007 but did so, according to top Polish official Wojciech Folejewski, in a spirit more of optimism than realism.
Folejewski made his assessment of what’s past in addressing a conference session at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona’s Catalan Congress Palace.
He did so in the wake of admissions by UEFA president Michel Platini and Ukraine football supremo Grigory Surkis last December that the co-hosting project, at times, had teetered on the brink of collapse.
Folejewski, chief operating officer of Poland 2012,said: “Co-operating on this with Ukraine is a great adventure and a big challenge.
“Of course on issues such as official government cooperation and airport security and transportation we work together to produce one single high-quality tournament. Maybe we expected more than we have got but sometimes you can’t do everything. Still, I am sure Ukraine is very determined and political support for the event there is very high to ensure it’s a high-quality tournament.
“Probably, when UEFA chose Ukraine and Poland they thought we were very similar. They thought we were both Slavs, both in eastern Europe.
“But they have found the reality was very different and UEFA has to change its opinion very fast. They learned that Poland is much closer to Germany than Ukraine because the political system is part of the European Union while Ukraine is not. We also even use different alphabets because in Ukraine they use Cyrillic.
“So this has all been very difficult but I think we will win through and show to the authorities responsible for the decision that it was a good one.
“In the past partners like Switzerland with Austria [in 2008] and Belgium with Holland [in 2000] were very easy. So they probably thought, well, let’s try some more complicated, more challenging projects – and Ukraine and Poland represented something fresh.”
Folejewski, with less than 100 days to go, remains confident about Poland’s ability to step up to the Euro plate.
He said: “It’s an exciting time. It’s absolutely the biggest such event in Poland’s history and our preparations are going very well.
“The infrastructure is the most important issue domestically because Poles are expecting to see very big changes so we have four new stadia ready, four new airports and 700km of new highways. Also 10 railway stations have been renewed.
“In the last five years Poland has spent more than E20bn so that’s the scale of this project.”
One other key feature is national image-building.
Folejewski said: “We killed communism even before the fall of the Berlin Wall and we were proud of this. Now we we’d like to show the world that we are ready to organise very complicated and very big events. We have nothing to lose.”