Hrigory Surkis, president of
the Ukraine Football Association, revealed on Friday for the
first time how close his country came to losing the right to
host some, or all, of the 2012 European Championship.
Ukraine and neighbours Poland are co-hosting the finals, the
biggest global sports event to be held in eastern Europe since
the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and a venture beset by problems
since it was awarded to the two countries in April 2007.
Political and economic problems slowed work on the project
while the global financial crisis of 2008 also had a huge effect
But speaking just hours before the draw for the 16-team
finals in Kiev's Palace of the Arts, with a television audience
in over 150 countries, Surkis said only the faith and wisdom
UEFA maintained in Ukraine meant the event was happening there
"Without the patience of UEFA, I can tell you frankly, we
wouldn't be sitting together in this room," he told reporters at
a news conference in the impressive newly-built Olympic Stadium
where the final will be staged next July.
"It was these people who gave us their experience, together
with their professionalism of holding the tournament in other
countries, that created the conditions [for us to go ahead].
"I am sure that without their efforts we would not be having
this celebration today. Gianni Infantino, the secretary general
of UEFA. sustained a huge burden. What if Ukraine was not able
to fulfil the guarantees we undertook?
"One and a half years ago we were facing the gap. On April 8 [UEFA President] Michel Platini met our newly-elected president
Viktor Yanukovych and the president said the government would do
everything it could for the tournament to be held. Platini was not convinced it could be done.
"Finally in September of this year he visited Poland and
Ukraine and said there are no big problems, only small minor
problems which can be resolved."
He added that if Ukraine had failed to recover from that low
point, it would have damaged the country's image not only in the
sporting world but in terms of its ambitions for European
integration and ultimately European Union membership.
"We appreciate the patience and wisdom of UEFA in its
approach towards the problems involved, especially towards
Ukraine because we had to create a new infrastructure not only
for sport but for all the other segments - airports, runways,
new motorways," said Surkis.
"We had to modernise the entire country and without UEFA's
patience we couldn't have been where we are sitting here today."
He said the situation was so worrying for UEFA by May 2009
that they were considering using six venues in Poland and only
two in Ukraine.
Surkis said the former Soviet Union had produced remarkable
achievements by using five-year plans but Ukraine had managed an
He added: "Never in the past 20 or 30 years had there been
such pressure to upgrade a country's entire infrastructure in so
short a time.
"In 2008 (European Championships co-hosts) Switzerland and
Austria just had to adapt existing facilities but we had to
create practically an entire new national infrastructure"
Surkis said if Ukraine had been scrapped as a host the
country's prospects of closer European integration would have
been hugely undermined and he thought UEFA's support of Russia
in hosting the 2018 World Cup - a decision taken exactly a year
ago to the day - might have been compromised.
Infantino, responding to Surkis's open admission and thanks,
replied: "There were a lot of ups and downs and the executive
meeting we had in Bordeaux two years ago was crucial to the
whole process. Now what has been done is really surprising.
"Work has been done in three or four years which usually
needs 20 years," he added.
"There were a few hot moments and some hot discussions as
well but I think they brought our respective teams closer
together to make history. It will have a major impact on these
two nations far beyond next summer."
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