Football diplomacy: Euro 2012 and Ukraine
The man responsible for Ukraine's Euro 2012 football championship has said Uefa is doing more than the EU institutions to modernise the country.
Markiyan Lubkivskyi, Ukraine's former ambassador to Bosnia and Croatia and football authority Uefa's man in charge of preparing for the games said the decision where to hold them was political.
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"It was a decision of Uefa to bring Ukraine closer to Europe. Uefa wanted to bring us closer to the EU. It is doing the job of the European Commission," he told EUobserver in Kiev on Tuesday (20 December).
Lubkivskyi noted that in the past four years Uefa officials have made "hundreds of visits, thousands of questions, millions of reports" on Ukraine to make sure it has decent infrastructure and that its notoriously corrupt and violent police do not extort money from foreign fans.
"I think the image of the Ukrainian police will change during this tournament ... I think Europe will discover Ukraine."
President Viktor Yanukovych is spending $9 billion on new stadiums, airport terminals and fast trains to help people have a good time.
His showpiece - the 70,000-capacity Olympiysky stadium in Kiev - has English-made seats, Slovak grass and a German roof. Its 88 toilets - with infra-red-controlled German faucets and vacuum-suction German pots - would not be out of place in a high-end hotel.
German leader Angela Merkel and the EU commission's Portuguese chief Jose Manuel Barroso are to come and support their national teams. The final in July is to see over 200,000 fans from EU countries party in the Ukrainian capital, including 75,000 from the UK and 30,000 from the Netherlands. Billions round the world will watch on TV.
Lubkivskyi said Yanukovych has taken a personal interest in the event: "He controls all the procedures. It's his project. When I meet him on delegations to stadiums, the questions he asks - he has a deep knowledge of all the details."
Feel good factor?
His remarks on Uefa's pro-EU work come at a time when the EU itself is keeping Ukraine at arm's length.
In terms of big politics, EU officials and Yanukovych on Monday agreed the text of a new bilateral treaty. But the EU refused to promise Ukraine it can one day join the Union and said the treaty will go in the bin unless he lets political rivals, such as former prime minster Yulia Tymoshenko, out of jail to run in parliamentary elections in October.
Opposition candidate Arseniy Yatseniuk told this website the president's top Euro 2012 priority is not to improve Ukraine's EU credentials but to give himself a bump in the vote.
"Paul Manafort [a US lobbyist working for Yanukovych] advised him to extend the current parliament's term because of this. Ukraine's parliament actually extended its term by one year so that he can get a boost from Euro 2012," Yatseniuk said.
At a time when Ukraine is seeking International Monetary Fund aid to prevent a financial crisis, he added: "It [Euro 2012] will come and go in a flash. But people are more interested in their wages and in corruption ... Who will pay for the upkeep of the stadiums afterwards? Local authorities?"
The Belize connection
He depicted the $900 million Olympiysky stadium as a symbol of Ukraine's problems.
Costs on Olympiysky and other Euro 2012 projects mushroomed after the government opted not to hold open tenders but to award contracts behind closed doors instead. One of the Ukrainian firms involved - Altcom - has declined to say who owns a sister company under the same name registered in Belize, a tax haven beloved by money launderers.
To compare, Poland - Ukraine's co-host for Euro 2012 - spent $400 million on its flagship venue. China's 'Bird's Nest' stadium for the 2008 Olympics cost just $423 million.
For his part, Uefa's Lubkivskyi said Yanukovych did not have time to hold tenders because Tymoshenko did too little to prepare for the games. "You should ask the previous government about that ... this government had a choice to fail on Euro 2012 or to make it a reality," he noted.
Meanwhile, Uefa itself is suing the former head of the Cypriot football association, Spyros Marangos, for saying its officials took bribes to award the games to Warsaw and Kiev.