Euro 2012 kick – off on schedule Ukraine’s Euro 2012 doubters left confounded as nation unveils final host city stadiums

Issue 40, November 2011.

October saw the unveiling of 2 new Euro 2012 stadiums in Kyiv and Lviv, completing Ukraine’s set of four host city venues ahead of next summer’s showcase European Championships. The country is still far from ready for its role as Euro 2012 co-host, but nevertheless Ukraine’s achievement in meeting its stadium obligations more than half a year before the big kick-off is a symbolically potent success that has confounded the legions of doubters who consistently said that it couldn’t be done.

Yanukovych regime likely to emerge as Euro 2012 winners
There is little doubt over who is going to take the credit and accept the plaudits for the turnaround in Ukraine’s preparations – the current government is already often to be found on screen and in print claiming the championships as their own despite in many cases having been out of office for much of the country’s initial preparations. Nevertheless, there is no denying that a successful Euro 2012 championship next summer would serve as the ideal political springboard for the Party of Regions going into the autumn 2012 parliamentary election campaign, providing the party with a propaganda prop very much in line with their famously proletarian preference for ‘deeds not words’. Amid all the talk of stadiums, international airports and infrastructure improvements, the potential political ramifications of Euro 2012 have been largely overlooked, yet it is hard to imagine the Yanukovych government not seeking to utilize Euro 2012 as a core component in their 2012 electoral arsenal. With Tymoshenko in prison and the rest of the opposition in a state of apparently headless paralysis, the Party of the Regions would be justified in feeling fairly confident if they do indeed embark on the 2012 election campaign trail under the resplendent banner of a well-run Euro 2012. 

Preparations dogged by perpetual pessimism
Any electoral luster derived from a successful Euro 2012 would largely be due to the very low expectations that have dogged the country’s Euro preparations at every step. From the very beginning Ukraine’s Euro 2012 mission has been plagued by pessimism and doubt that has sapped efforts and spread a sense of looming failure. This has been true both domestically and internationally in equal measure. Such widespread lack of confidence was perhaps to be expected – after all, Ukraine had never held anything on a truly international scale until it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, and the continent’s annual kitsch carnival can hardly be compared to the global proportions of UEFA’s European Championships. Initial rumours in the international media focused on a possible UEFA change of heart over their Ukrainian gamble, with everyone from 2012 bid losers Italy to Scotland, Sweden and Germany all reportedly ready to step into Ukraine’s soon-to-be-vacated host nation spot. In much of the media coverage surrounding this speculation, it was interesting to note that Ukraine’s inability to host the tournament was generally assumed to be self-evident and rarely thought worthy of more detailed analysis. Within Ukraine itself the atmosphere was barely less toxic, with much of the preparation work soon becoming mired in bureaucratic squabbles that carried the strong stench of graft and reflected the intra-administrational warfare which blighted the later years of the country’s brief Orange Era.

Orange cities fail to deliver while Donbass steams ahead
It was not all doom in gloom even in the early year’s of Ukraine’s Euro 2012 five-year plan: the two East Ukrainian stadium projects in Kharkiv and Donetsk made rapid progress, in marked contrast to the Kyiv and Lviv projects. Fittingly, while the country’s two Orange bastion cities played host to a comedy of Euro 2012 errors, Ukraine’s Russophile eastern capitals were getting things done in a very Soviet and workmanlike fashion. Nevertheless, isolated progress in the east could not cloud the broader delays that jeopardized the early years of Ukraine’s Euro 2012 preparations. As the countdown clock continued to tick, UEFA President Michel Platini paid repeated visits to Kyiv where he read lectures to President Yushchenko and sought assurances that delays would eventually be overcome. The country was reportedly given numerous final warnings and faced supposedly ‘do or die’ inspection tours on at least three occasions, each time fuelling new rounds of fatalistic speculation.

Finally on track for a successful summer 2012
In retrospect it appears that the corner was turned at some point in mid-2009. The past two years have seen steady progress along all fronts and it now appears that Ukraine will at the very least manage to meet most of UEFA’s minimum requirements as set out back in 2007. At times it has not been pretty – the incoming Yanukovych administration has faced numerous accusations of involvement in budgetary shenanigans – but the end result will likely be a plausible Euro 2012 and a credible European debut for a nation which has spent far, far too long in the shadows. Despite much cosmetic work, the country’s infrastructure remains entirely unsuited in many fundamental ways to the hosting of such a major international event, but as long as the basics of transport, refreshment and accommodation are in place then visiting football fans are likely to find that on barmy Ukrainian summer evenings the plusses tend to outnumber the minuses.