The road to the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine has been anything but an easy one.... Reports Goal.com
The year after being awarded the tournament in 2007 saw the onset of the global financial crisis combined with political and financial problems that slowed preparation work almost to a halt.
In 2010, Uefa president Michel Platini threatened to strip the nations of the tournament entirely - and as recently as this year reflected that the decision to award the honour to Poland and Ukraine appeared, with hindsight, “slightly rash”.
With less than a fortnight until the start of the competition, however, it is a case of all systems go. Fears that the two countries might fail even to stage the finals have faded and Europe can look forward to what is hoped will be a festival of football on a grand scale.
The question now, however, is: at what cost?
Eight stadiums, built or renovated across the two countries at a cost of more than £2 billion, have landed a hefty bill at the foot of local taxpayers.
Non-governmental studies reveal that, even if every game were to be a sell-out, every Polish taxpayer would have to part with a further £2,000 to cover the cost of building four brand-new stadiums.
"The large costs of Euro 2012 will be paid from our money," said Magdalena Sroda, philosopher and professor of ethics at the University of Warsaw. "The prices of schools, apartments, bills will get higher. Much more important investments will be put on hold because of these stadiums."
According to a report by the Globalisation Institute, the total becomes even more eye-watering when taking into account all the upgrades in security and infrastructure, with Poland’s total spend on roads, airports, hotels and stadiums estimated at £16bn.
And the same can be said, too, of Ukraine. The cost of regenerating the Olympic National Sport Complex in Kiev and Arena Lviv as well as similar infrastructure investments has seen expenses soar to nearly £9bn.
Allied to the costs of the stadium are fears over their long-term legacy.
Poland will be left post-tournament with three 40,000 all-seater grounds and one 60,000-capacity arena – and yet on only one occasion last season in the top tier of Polish football did any of the new stadiums completely sell out.
Attendances in the Ekstraklasa may well be on the rise but as of May 2012, at 8,704, the average gate for a league game remains lower than for your usual home match for English League One outfit MK Dons.
It means that fears of the stadiums being rendered white elephants post-Championships, just like those built specially for Euro 2004 that are currently scheduled to be demolished in Portugal, are growing.
The parallels to World Cup 2010 are obvious, where massive stadiums like Soccer City were built in South Africa far out of the locals’ way with domestic football not thrilling enough to keep the public filling the seats after the main event packed up and disappeared. The football circus came and went without permanently integrating itself with the host nation.
"If we want to keep stadiums alive after Euro 2012, the cities will have to pay the price," said Robert Pietryszyn of Wroclaw's Euro 2012 branch. "The question is whether we are ready to add to the tournament like this."
In Ukraine, meanwhile, it is expected that many of the grounds will be half-empty for the less important games.
Despite claims from Uefa spokesman Martin Kallen in April that “95 per cent of tickets for the whole tournament” had already been sold, huge numbers remain on sale on the organisation’s official ticketing portal.
Huge traffic on the site created several problems with logging on and completing transactions – a process which was widely criticised by fans across the continent.
“I was sent only one message by Uefa to inform me that tickets were available,” said Bartosz Gazda, 24, a Polish student from Poznan. “There were numbers of them sold at different times of the week, without any further notice. If it wasn’t for the Twitter community that informed one and other about the tickets, I would have missed out!”
The success of the ticketing process will be announced in days to come but, with less than a fortnight to go, details about how to go about purchasing unsold tickets, thousands of which were sent back by the competing nations, remains unavailable.
But it is clear – the atmosphere during matches, even if not the attendances, is likely to suffer as the number of seats taken by people with no real affiliation to the sport far outweigh those snapped up by hardcore fans.
All this said, as noted, Poland and Ukraine have been doubted before in the build-up to the tournament.
There was a time when their ability to stage it at all was doubted by many and fears that the tournament might have had to be moved at an exceptionally late hour were widespread – and those worries, increasingly, have been allayed.
There have also been reports in the press on an alarming drop in the number of English supporters buying tickets for the competition. In fact English supporters will be outnumbered by opposing fans for the opening ties.