Ukraine Ready For Euro 2012 Despite Delays

KIEV, Ukraine -- One year before it hosts the biggest event in its two decades of independence, Ukraine is finally showing signs it is ready for the European football championships despite delays and a string of scandals.

Ukraine has had to build major infrastructure from scratch to jointly host the Euro 2012 championships with Poland.

Ukraine has had to build airport terminals, stadiums and hotels from scratch to make sure the country can successfully jointly host the championships with its western neighbour Poland.

Matches will not only be staged in Kiev and the eastern industrial powerhouse of Donetsk but also in the historic former capital Kharkiv and, most ambitiously, in the underdeveloped western city of Lviv.

"We have seen great progress but there is still a lot of work to do," Martin Kallen, director of operations at UEFA for Euro 2012, told AFP.

Donetsk and Kharkiv have already opened the stadiums that will be used for Euro 2012 but work in Kiev and Lviv is still continuing and the date for their opening has been put back until October.

The delay is acceptable for UEFA which is nonetheless concerned that Ukraine does not leave the completion of the stadiums until the last minute.

"There are lots of papers to fill in, certificates and licenses. If they do not start now then things will be a bit tight," said Kallen.

The modernisation of airports and the building of new terminals has also lagged, with the opening of the new terminal D at Kiev, expected at the end of 2011, now put back until March 2012.

The same problem has also been seen with hotels. "There are delays on some of the cities," Kallen acknowledged.

Out of a total of 51,200 beds that UEFA says need to be available for supporters in the four cities, 18,200 were still lacking in May, according to the national organisation committee.

However, UEFA is still optimistic all will be ready on time and does not see major risks. "We are working very hard, as are our Ukrainian colleagues. We need to go forwards even more to get there," said Kallen.

Meanwhile, the allocation of funds for the Euro 2012 has aroused questions and even scandals in the Ukraine, a country which even the presidency admits has a "systematic" problem with corruption.

The opposition this month questioned the purchase by Donetsk of 10 portable toilets for an eyebrow-raising 4 million hyrvnias (350,000 euros, $500,000 dollars) which they rapidly dubbed "golden lavatories".

The spending bill in Lviv, which boasts Ukraine's most beautiful historic city centre but also had the biggest infrastructure deficit, has been a particular cause of concern.

The cost of its new stadium has quadrupled since 2008 to 2.4 billion hryvnias (210 million euros, $300 million dollars) while the bill for the reconstruction of the airport has doubled to 2.2 billion hryvnias (190 million euros, $275 million dollars).

Ukraine was plunged into recession by the economic crisis and in elections last year pro-Russian authorities defeated the pro-Western politicians who had originally triumphed in the wake of the Orange Revolution.

However, President Viktor Yanukovych has made clear the extravaganza was among his government's top priorities and there was not a chance of the country relinquishing its dream of holding the event.

This has not prevented the gaffe-prone president committing some of his famous verbal fumbles over the event.

He made a terrible mangle of the event's main slogan "Switch on Ukraine" in a keynote speech and then outraged feminists by declaring foreigners should come to Ukraine in spring to witness its scantily dressed girls.

Source: AFP