Ukraine's Euro 2012 "Potemkin village" cost €100,000 per visitor

By bne IntelliNews June 20, 2012

Graham Stack in Kyiv -

Seldom can so much have been paid by so many to so few: Ukraine spent €8bn to get the country ready for co-hosting the Euro 2012 football tournament, but the paltry flow of football fans - a maximum 80,000 came - means the country will have splashed out a staggering €100,000 on each single visitor.

Ukrainian director for Euro 2012, Markian Lubkivsky, in the run-up to the tournament put the expected number of visitors at 1.5m, without revealing the source of the figure. But with the group phase ending and Ukraine knocked out, a ring round of embassies of visiting countries produces a generous total figure for visiting fans of at most 80,000.

Cross-party consensus puts the total spent on the championship at €8bn, so the low-show figures means that the cash-strapped country has splashed out around €100,000 euros on each individual fan who came to Ukraine for the championship.

To paper over the debacle, Ukraine's PR machine has gone into overtime: Farcical claims that 4m foreigners had arrived since the start of the tournament circulated in press releases June 19, and the deputy prime minister for Euro 2012 in Ukraine, Boris Kolesknikov, was earlier claiming 90,000 visitors crossing the border every day.

Being charitable, such statistics may not be an outright lie: they simply reflect the annual June migration of hundreds of thousands of Russians and Belarusians to their beloved beaches in the Crimea, whose government on June 19 put the number of visitors arriving to the Black Sea this month at around 1m.

Eventually Kolesnikov, who like most of the government hails from the unpopular venue of Donetsk, came clean in an interview with the Financial Times: "I cannot explain why spectators aren't coming. I feel bad about this," he said.

Location, location, location

Usually at such tournaments, tickets are gold dust and many fans follow their national teams to the host countries just to sip in the atmosphere and gulp down the local lager in the bars close to the stadium. But in Ukraine the unthinkable has happened - the stadia have not been sold out, let alone the pubs filled, even for "le crunch" games such as England vs. France.

The biggest noshows have been the French and the English, which meant their thrilling game in Donetsk wasn't even sold out, with fan numbers estimated at a miserly 5,000-8,000 on each side. The Swedish camp in Kyiv, on the other hand, has been the surprise party of the tournament, with an estimated 15,000 in attendance - and the conclusion is that the Swedes, playing all their games in the capital, with its superior connections, attractions and accommodation, saw Ukraine through very different lenses than did the English and French, exiled to the industrial far east of the country. The German fans have shown up in slightly more respectable numbers of around 15,000, based in the West Ukrainian tourist mecca of Lviv, as did the Danes and Portuguese.

Ukraine's fatal choice of the two east Ukrainian venues that have proved so unpopular was down to the political and economic chaos of the late "Orange era" in 2009 when the choice was made, and when local financial support from regional oligarchs such as Aleksandr Yaroslavsky in Kharkiv and Rinat Akhmetov in Donetsk proved decisive. But Ukraine is now ruing the decision - Black Sea tourism pearl of Odesa would have been more appropriate in terms of logistics - but most importantly, in generating the all-important knock-on effects for Ukraine's image and nascent tourism industry.

Costs soar

Also, because of the financial and political crisis that broke over Ukraine in 2008, the preparations for the tournament were fatally delayed, and at the peak of the crisis every week brought new warnings that European football's governing body Uefa might reassign the Ukrainian venues to Poland or Germany. The crisis also caused the flow of funds for construction to dry up; when the flow resumed in 2010, the speed needed meant that costs spiralled, according to current government officials.

According to Euro 2012 tsar Kolesnikov, who assumed responsibility in 2010, for a lot of construction projects needed to fulfil Ukraine's commitments to Uefa, the previous government had not even drawn up blueprints. Kolesnikov claims in the time he has been in charge, Ukraine has built five international airports, launched high speed trains imported from South Korea and built around 2,000 kilometres of road surface. But the speed needed caused construction costs to soar from an initially projected €1.5bn to €8bn.

Opposition critics say that the spiralling costs under Kolesnikov were not a result of the previous government's tardiness, but Kolesnikov's and others' venality. "The door to corruption was opened by the government's cancellation of competitive tenders for Euro 2012 construction projects, claiming that this would slow down things too much," shadow Euro 2012 minister Ostap Semerak, Kolensikov's opposite number, tells bne. "Then what happens is that the government officials awarding contracts and the contractors massively inflate the budget and contractors pays a large part of their payment back to the official. Most payments are in cash and this does not even require the use of offshores or anything sophisticated. Up to $4bn of the total Euro 2012 budget was stolen this way."

And according to Semerak, a member of the BYuT parliamentary group of jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, Kolesnikov is directly connected to two of the main contractors involved in such corruption schemes, both companies, like him, apparently hailing from Donetsk - Altcom and AK Engineering. Kolesnikov himself has strenuously denied any connection to these companies, the ownership of which is unclear.

Potemkin village

Ukraine were knocked out on June 20 by, ironically enough, England. The tournament will now progress without Ukraine, to the enormous disappointment of tens of thousands of local supporters packed into the fan zone on Kyiv's Kreschatik.

But many other Kyiv citizens will heave a sigh of relief.

The municipal authorities have been urging inhabitants to leave the city during match days, with many municipal functions, including childcare facilities, and utilities closing on match days, creating the feeling among ordinary people that the tournament is not for them but for the few exotic foreign guests. Ukrainian police have also received orders to treat foreign fans' misdemeanors - drinking alcohol and/or urinating in public places - with lenience, while the locals usually enjoy no such lassitude. And while an initial sparkling victory against Sweden gave the country a much needed lift, it did not last long as the national team predictably crashed out of the tournament after the group stage.

The foreign fans who came will leave convinced that Ukraine is a liveable country, and BBC reports of violent extremists awaiting visitors were irresponsibly alarmist - not a single attack on visiting fans has been reported to police.

But the UK's Channel 4 on May 18 aired another documentary on Ukraine, "Ukraine's forgotten children", based on the heart-wrenching fate of handicapped kids abandoned to decay in derelict state care institutions. This topic may be more pertinent when asking whether the costs of €100,000 per visiting fan were justified. The impression is hard to dispel that Ukraine's Euro 2012 was a very expensive and ultimately unconvincing Potemkin village.

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