On 18 April, Ukraine and Poland scored a major victory in Cardiff, Wales, when UEFA announced its decision regarding the location of the Euro 2012 soccer finals. Although the stars, and sympathies of the UEFA hierarchy, appeared to be leaning in favor of the Poland-Ukraine bid for quite some time, only the official announcement finally convinced fans that the improbable has happened. According to the UNIAN report:
Poland and Ukraine have been chosen to co-host the European Championship soccer tournament in 2012, UEFA announced on Wednesday, according to Reuters. European soccer’s governing body said it had selected the Poland and Ukraine bid ahead of Italy and another joint bid from Croatia and Hungary to stage the finals.
In the final voting round, Ukraine and Poland received 8 votes, twice as many as the Italians, while the Croatia-Hungary bid got none. Despite the impressive victory, it was a bumpy ride to success. From the very beginning, not only did the Ukraine-Poland bid struggle against many odds, such the lack of infrastructure, political instability etc. but also many observers wrote them off on many occasions due to some major setbacks suffered during the process. It was a combination of some fortunate developments and, most importantly, the relentless efforts of the head of the Ukrainian soccer federation Hryhorii Surkis, the main driving force behind the bid, that brought about this unlikely result.
On 28 September 2003 the Ukrainian and Polish soccer federations announced that they had agreed to jointly seek the hosting rights for Euro 2012. Actually, it was the Ukrainian side led by the Surkis brothers, de-facto owners of the Dynamo Kyiv, who wanted to bring Euro-2012 to their country. However, they realized that Ukraine would have little chance of hosting such a big tournament alone. Thus, Poland was invited to be the co-host. At the time, the Surkis clan wielded significant political clout through the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine, which was one of the pillars of the Kuchma regime. Therefore, there was little doubt that the Ukrainian state would be behind the endeavor. On the other hand, Polish officials seemed to be initially quite cool toward the idea. Frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm and commitment on the Polish side, Hryhorii Surkis publicly mused that Ukraine might want to terminate its partnership with Poland in favor another country that would be willing to be a more amenable partner. In the summer of 2004, during the Kuchma-Putin meetings in Yalta, Hryhorii Surkis suggested the same thing to Russian president, Vladimir Putin. However, the latter rejected the offer indignantly, saying that Russia would never be anyone’s second choice.
Poland indeed remained the weakest link in this tandem and the bid suffered its most serious blow in January 2007 when according to Reuters “the Polish sports minister suspended the country’s soccer association as part of an investigation into alleged match-fixing, a move that prompted FIFA to threaten to exclude Poland from international competition.” It was again Hryhorii Surkis, who at the behest of the UEFA head Michele Platini, met with Polish President Lech Kachynski, who prompted Polish officials to reverse their decision.
Yet, it was evident from the outset that UEFA was not particularly well disposed towards the Poland-Ukraine bid. As early as November 2005, just nine months after the official submission of the proposal, an UEFA internal report was quoted as saying that “Ukraine and Poland are ready to host the tournament,” citing the lack of infrastructure, and potential problems with transportation and accommodation.
This damning verdict would have doomed their chances regardless of future efforts to improve the situation. The factors that made UEFA officials change their minds two years later may have had little to do with the actual progress. The heavily favored Italy, suffered a serious blow to its chances in early 2007 when its image was tarnished due to an outburst of violence that resulted in the death of a policeman in Sicily. Hungary witnessed mass anti-Euro rallies, and sociological surveys showed that in both countries the public’s support for the bid was indeed low. Perhaps, even more important was the behind-the-scenes work of Hryhorii Surkis to cajole the UEFA authorities. One can only speculate whether Hryhorii Surkis’s victory was achieved through strictly legal means. In the past the Surkis brothers were implicated in shady dealings in 1995 when their attempts to bribe a referee resulted in Dynamo Kyiv’s suspension from UEFA tournaments. The Ukrainian media, understandably jubilant about the event, has so far shunned away from any controversy in this regard. As one Ukrainian journalist delicately pointed out at the Ukrainian news website Oboz.com.ua,
After the Ukrainian dream has just become a reality, it is not a good time to discuss the state of our soccer, infrastructure, the political situation in the country, or the methods used to bring about… an event of such global importance.
The corruption theme was quickly seized upon by Hungarian and Croatian rivals who professed their “shock and dismay” about the results.
“On Monday, we learned a UEFA sub-committee had assessed bids from Italy and ourselves as level favourites while the Poland-Ukraine bid was deemed uncompetitive. It’s a complete mystery to us what happened after that,” the president of Croatian soccer federation was quoted as saying.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany went even further, stopping short of direct accusations of corruption:
“I’m very disappointed. I would not like to unjustly accuse UEFA officials, but I think it’s possible that economic factors played a role in the selection of the hosts,” he said.
Of course, it would be easy to dismiss the attempts of losers trying to justify their failure. Given the controversial reputation of the Surkis brothers, such accusations cannot be dismissed out of hand. Yet, it is highly unlikely that the decision would be reversed even if it were proven that there are grounds for the accusation of improper dealings, and one can look to an analogous situation several years ago with the corruption scandal at the International Olympic Committee. What is more important here is that henceforth Ukraine’s preparations will constantly been under the spotlight and its eventual success will be measured not only by the state of stadiums or availability of modern hotels, but also by the way these goals are attained. In that regard, it is to be seen whether the UEFA decision will turn out to be a blessing or curse for Ukraine.