Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soccer To Save Ukraine?

Ukraine has been immune from good news of late.  This country of 50 million on the eastern edge of Europe has been especially hard hit by the credit crunch and now a stronger strain of H1N1 that has killed 3,000.   But amid the gloom, Europe's soccer honchos gave Ukrainians something to cheer about, announcing they would not snatch away their role as co-hosts with Poland of Europe's 2012 soccer championships.   

That announcement on December 11 was huge for the Ukrainians.  UEFA, Europe's soccer governing body, had been threatening to pull the tourney from Ukraine.  UEFA President Michel Platini, a big backer of soccer in Eastern Europe, had a list of grievances, namely little progress on building stadia, and hotels as well as upgrading airports and roads. 

Ukraine's roads are a disaster, little more than glorified rutted pathways.  Airports lack amenities.  The country has all of one five-star hotel in Kyiv.

But apparently Ukraine has put the footdragging and political infighting aside just enough to make the kind of progress on its list of projects to satisfy the overlords at UEFA. 

Good news for the Ukranians, but as Platini points out: "There remains considerable work to be done."

As this video shows, both Poland and Ukraine have projected what would be envious stadia in any country be it east or west.

To build stadia like that takes lot of money and right now, especially for Kyiv, times are tough. 

State revenues are down by 30 percent as a result of the credit crunch. 

Ukraine has seen its biggest export -- steel -- fall by fifty percent.

On the day UEFA was announcing Ukraine was safe as co-host, Kyiv extended its palm to the International Monetary Fund for a loan of some $2 billion to overcome what government officials describe as an "extremely difficult" financial situation.

Deputy Prime Minister Hryhoriy Nemyria warned of potential "social unrest" if wages and pensions are not paid.

Financing for mega-sporting events rarely makes sense.  Just ask the Greeks who hosted the Olympics in 2004.  The bill came to $9 to $12 billion.  It took Montreal thirty years to pay off its huge debt from hosting the Olympics in 1976. 

So is Ukraine, financially weaker than even Greece (now on the verge of bankruptcy) let alone Canada, committing financial suicide?

Short term and even mid-term, this decision will put Ukraine into even further financial straits. 

But if Ukraine has its eye on eventual membership in the EU, something Brussels is weary about for fear of rousing Russia's ire, then hosting this event makes sense.

If the Ukrainians can pull off hosting a major European event alongside an EU member, then the argument that Ukraine can be kept out of the club makes little sense.  Ukrainians will go a long way to showing Europe that it has made progress and is not a corrupt, backward backwater. 

President Viktor Yushchenko, who has been the main backer of stronger ties with Europe and the United States is on his way out of office when presidential elections are held in January. 

His two likely successors also back strong ties with Europe, but also look to Moscow more as well.

If Ukraine ultimately wants to be part of Europe, soccer may be the ticket.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.