independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

If grim Ukraine can host Euros then so can we

Jimmy Saville may have passed away, but his spirit lives on in Euro 2012. Now, it's UEFA who make dreams come true.

No hotels? Exorbitant internal travel costs? Unfinished roads? It doesn't matter. You can still host the European Championships.

This should be Ukraine's week. Four out of the final five tournament games take place on their soil, but the majority of the supporters who travelled from across the continent for this competition have yet to visit there, and are wary of doing so.

This is nothing to do with the unfortunate scare stories about hooligans that preceded the competition. Instead, it's all about the cost. A combination of greedy hoteliers and uncaring organisers have really let the people of Ukraine down, and it all comes back to the governing body's selection of a country that is neither ready nor suitable for an event of this magnitude.

Those of us who've spent the tournament in Poland are thankful for it every day. We hear stories from colleagues the other side of the border, and breathe a heavy sigh of relief. They are on the battlefield while we relax in the mess.

The dearth of accommodation in Donetsk was a major worry before the tournament, and it's reached comical levels ahead of Wednesday's semi-final between Spain and Portugal. Confident Russian fans expected their country to be involved, and hoovered up most of the hotel rooms.

Although they won't be showing up, they have neglected to release them. So, last-minute travellers are being quoted prices of around €800 for a one-night stay in a hotel where most of the rooms are likely to be empty.

The alternatives are fairly grim. There's nothing worse than a journalist moaning about a trip where all expenses are covered, but the Englishman whose company are paying £500 a night for what is effectively a squat is entitled to feel somewhat aggrieved. He had no choice. Supporters do, and have voted with their feet.

Last week, the city office of Gdansk estimated that positive foreign media coverage of their city could be worth €21m in the coming years. No such estimates have emerged from Donetsk.

Aside from the Swedes and a reduced English contingent, fans have stayed away from Ukraine. The blocks of empty seats in the Donbass Arena for Saturday's quarter-final between Spain and France told their own story, and there is likely to be a repeat for Wednesday's semi in the same venue between the world champions and Portugal. Many Spanish supporters watched the French encounter in Poland; they may have to save their money for the final. Flights from Warsaw to Kiev are trading at €500.

Of course, the blazers in UEFA and FIFA justify the awarding of tournaments to underprepared countries by stressing the legacy angle, a convoluted way of saying that the decision will look better in hindsight than it did at the time. For Ukrainians, that hope is fading. They watched enviously as 13 nations set up base camp in Poland, paying a combined total of €227,000 per day for their lodging, and that's before you consider the investment from their fans.

Will UEFA learn? After their FIFA brethren awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, they've a hard act to follow when it comes to their next bidding process. But there should be a lesson from the logistical chaos here for Ireland. There were predictable sniggers last month when it was announced that the FAI were joining their counterparts in Scotland and Wales by registering interest in staging Euro 2020, a move driven, in part, by encouragement from UEFA, who want opposition to a flawed Turkish campaign.

incapable

It's easy to fall into the default argument that Ireland would be incapable. Compared to the well-drilled World Cup in Germany, and the smooth Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, that's a fair assumption.

However, the experience of the last two tournaments should alter that thinking. We have a pair of stadiums in Dublin that would require only moderate tinkering, and they are conveniently located in a city that is easily accessible. Our roads may not be perfect, but they are far superior to Poland and Ukraine, and we have no shortage of accommodation. Heck, we might even find a use for the ghost estates.

Obviously, the FAI have pressing financial problems to deal with right now, and it remains to be seen if a serious bid actually develops. The country's finances are hardly in a position to foot the bill, so perhaps it's a fanciful proposal, but it's worth exploring.

If Ukraine can do it, then Ireland definitely can. Let that be one positive from our Euro 2012 legacy.

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