KIEV, Ukraine -- Soccer fans are expecting a major event this summer: the final tournament for the biggest European soccer championship, Euro 2012.


For the first time UEFA is having the tournament in a land that for decades has been behind the Iron Curtain: Poland and Ukraine.

For co-hosting countries, the preparation for the tournament brought positive developments in some ways and caused a great amount of headache in others.

But despite the obstacles, it looks like the countries got their acts together and all the main preparations have been completed on time.

When UEFA chose Poland and Ukraine to be the co-hosts of Euro 2012, it presented a unique economic opportunity for the two countries, both still recovering from a Communistic past.

Excitement has been stirring ever since the two countries were selected to host the final games five years ago — not so much among soccer fans but among investors, businesses, city officials and contractors.

When the financial crisis of 2008 hit the world, Poland was the only member of the European Union to escape recession, and despite a high unemployment rate and slowing 2007 GDP growth rate, has expanded its economy in 2010 by 4%.

Ukraine, on the other hand, suffering yet another post-Orange Revolution political crisis, came close to being forced to default when the country’s economy shrunk by about 15% in 2009.

It was no surprise that both countries had some difficulties keeping up with their ambitious plans for the soccer tournament, with Ukraine being so far behind that for a while UEFA considered the idea of finding another hosting country.

Among Poland’s noticeable moments during the preparation was canceling a contract with a Chinese contractor that caused significant delays and financial problems with building a linking highway between Warsaw and Berlin about a year before the games.

In 2008 Poland’s government suspended the Polish Football Association over corruption issues which put the country at risk of losing the right to co-host and forced the government to act quickly to resolve the issue.

Not to mention, that in 2010 Polish president Lech Kaczynski, and other members of the country’s government and military leadership, died in the plane crush near the city of Smolensk.

Despite that setback, Poland completed building the National Stadium by November of last year, as well as the renovation of other venues for Euro 2012.

Ukraine was a little bit behind in its preparations but by now most of the work is done and the key objectives have been achieved.

According to the Ukrainian government, the total budget for the Euro-2012 is $14 billion.

Almost half of that has come from state funds, and remainder is from private investors.

Not all ambitious plans were realized but new stadiums and hotels have been built, airports have been expanded and some infrastructure improved.

Some of Poland’s officials couldn’t help making patronizing comments:

“We expected more [from them] but I am sure Ukraine is very determined,” Wojciech Folejeweki, the Chief Operating Officer of Poland 2012 organizing committee said, “UEFA, choosing us, they thought we were very similar, but the reality is very different.”

While the two countries are a bit different — Poland hasn’t been a part of the Soviet Union, even though it was part of the Soviet Block since the end of the WWII, and it has successfully managed to transition into a free market democracy and has a more stable political scene — the mentality of the people is not that different.

In both countries some ambitious plans to modernize the roads and infrastructure had to be downscaled, some investments vanished inexplicably, some palaces remain decrepit and some parks are unfinished.

But what’s attracting attention is that Poles, as well as Ukrainians, are planning to squeeze everything they can out of western tourists and fans from around the world.

In both countries the prices on average are much lower then anywhere in Europe.

The Polish National Bank said that the soccer championship will spur a “limited and temporary” boost in inflation as polish business are raising prices to take advantage of Euro 2012.

Ukrainian hotels will attempt to charge unreasonable rates – according to The Guardian, 1,500 Euro ($1,982) for three nights, several times more expensive than in Poland - for reservations during the time of the championship, and also beefing up prices for whatever else they can.

That said, overcharging for hotels during popular events is not such an uncommon practice, as 2010’s World Cup in South Africa and this summer’s Olympics in London have shown. 

Ukrainian and Polish business are getting ready to accommodate soccer fans from all over the world and deal with a high volume of tourists: transportation, security, additional mobile communication services, advertising and city tours for soccer fans who want to visit historical sites.

Any smart business would try to profit on such a moneymaking opportunity.

Poland and Ukraine’s emerging economies within Europe may justify price gouging during Euro 2012, it just might seem slightly more grotesque to a western observer.

In the end, only weeks before the tournament, it looks like Ukraine and Poland are not going to disgrace themselves in front of their Western visitors.

East is ready to meet West.

Source: Forbes

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