Graham Stack in Kyiv -
European football's governing body UEFA decided May 13 to confirm only Ukraine's capital Kyiv as a host city for the Euro 2012 football championships, with three other cities being given a deadline of November 30 to prove their suitability. A face-saving, two-venue solution is looking increasingly likely for Ukraine come the final deadline in November.
Newswires have been quoting French sports journalist Eric Champel, confidante and biographer of UEFA President Michel Platini, saying that Platini felt let down by Ukraine, and was ready in Bucharest to slash to a minimum the number of Ukrainian venues hosting Euro 2012.
Champel had reported before the UEFA decision that the organisation would name four Polish cities and only two Ukrainian - Kyiv and Lviv. Champel proved to be spot on about the Polish cities, and is now sticking to his guns about Ukraine, despite UEFA giving three candidate cities - Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv - until November before a final decision on their suitability is made.
UEFA in fact only confirmed capital city Kyiv as a host city - and did so grudgingly at that, mentioning a number of significant shortcomings that need to be rectified. Before the decision, Platini had made clear that if the capital city failed to qualify as a venue, the country as a whole would lose its right to host the prestigious championships.
Backing up Champel's version of events, Ukraine's business daily Delo quoted a source from Ukraine's delegation to UEFA alleging that UEFA was originally intending to make a final decision naming Kyiv as only Ukrainian venue. According to Delo, only a letter personally addressed to Platini, signed by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Parliamentary Speaker Volodomyr Lytvin, giving a guarantee of improvements to Ukraine's preparation staved this off, saving Ukraine's four-four parity status for now. However, the "4+2" outcome is looking most likely. Platini pointedly stated in the run-up to the decision that Euro 2012 could take place in as few as six host cities.
Lviving it up
Champel's naming of Lviv as potentially the only Ukrainian host city besides the capital Kyiv sounded initially strange. Picturesque but poor, Lviv has been widely criticized for its backwardness in preparations, connected with its inability to find investors for a stadium and airport. There were expectations that reserve city Kharkiv would burst through to knock Lviv off the list
However, if UEFA were to scale down Ukraine's participation to only two cities, as Champel suggests, Lviv would for purely logistical reasons be the natural second Ukrainian venue. The formerly Polish city is located close to the Polish border, with close transport connections to Polish venues. A single eastern Ukrainian venue, on the other hand, whether Kharkyv or Donetsk, would be logistically isolated from the main body of the event.
Opting for Lviv according to this logic would, however, be tough justice for eastern Ukraine, the heartland of Ukrainian football, and arguably way ahead of Lviv in terms of preparation for Euro 2012. Kharkyv and Donetsk are having their stadia and airport infrastructure modernised by the image-challenged oligarchs who also own the local football teams and have bankrolled their clubs' impressive run of European victories this year.
In UEFA's decision, Kharkiv even made the jump from reserve city to candidate host city, not least thanks to backing of oligarch Aleksandr Yaroslavskii, owner of DSN holding and of Kharkiv's Metallist team, who reached the UEFA cup quarter finals this year. "It would be hurting if Kharkiv were not to be chosen," Elena Derevyanko, adviser to Yaroslavskii, tells bne. "Michel Platini promised that the cities would host Euro 2012 that were best prepared to do so. Kharkiv is better prepared than all the others, because no other Ukrainian city has made so much progress in all respects. In some cities there is a stadium, but it needs improvement, and there's no financial guarantees for airport reconstruction. In some, there are hotels, but neither a stadium nor an airport, and no investors willing to build them. Only in Kharkiv are all ingredients present."
Kharkiv and Donetsk, however, are roughly as near to Moscow as to Kyiv, let alone Lviv, let alone the Polish venues, and, in the event of Euro 2012's centre of gravity shifting west to Poland, this will inevitably count strongly against them. But preference shown by UEFA to western Ukraine on geographical grounds is unlikely to go down well in Ukrainian football's Eastern heartland.
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