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'We're 98 per cent ready,' says Polish Euro organisers

Polish Euro plan on track, despite Ukraine concern

AFP, Monday 7 May 2012

With just a month left until Euro 2012 kicks off in Warsaw, Poland is working flat-out and watching nervously as calls to boycott matches in co-host Ukraine tarnish the tournament.

"We're 98 per cent ready," said Mikolaj Piotrowski, spokesman for PL.2012, the Polish organising arm overseeing projects linked to the competition including transport, accommodation and stadiums.

"On May 15, the formal organisational readiness of Poland will be announced," he told AFP. "It means we'll start to act as if the tournament was already underway."

The only major question mark, he noted, is over a stretch of motorway near Warsaw, which is needed to plug a hole on the route from western Europe.

European football's governing body UEFA owns the prestigious Euro brand and watches hawkishly for slippage.

Back in 2008, a year after wrongfooting pundits by picking Poland and Ukraine over favorites Italy, UEFA issued a damning report which fueled speculation it could change its mind.

That now seems a lifetime ago.              

"I don't see that we will not be ready for the tournament," Martin Kallen, UEFA's Euro watchdog, told AFP.

"If it's not 100 per cent, you won't even feel it. I'd say we're now at 98 percent. It's OK. We're at the same level as at previous tournaments in most cases, or even a little bit ahead," he added.

Euro 2012 kicks off on June 8 when Poland face Greece in Warsaw and ends on July 1 with the final in Kiev.

It marks the first-ever edition of the quadrennial, 16-nation championship behind the former Iron Curtain.

Moving beyond its comfort zone was a gamble for UEFA in the wake of Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, and ahead of Euro 2016 in France.

With the championship traditionally drawing hundreds of thousands of fans and a huge global television audience, the Poles are aware they must prove their mettle.

"For Poland, this is a very important event," underlined Kallen.

The challenges have been clear from the start.

The communist era ended two decades ago but Poland and, to a greater extent, Ukraine have faced a mammoth task overhauling their infrastructure, notably transport and accommodation.

While Ukraine's tourist sector has been slammed for hiking prices and exploiting the mismatch between supply and demand to make some easy money -- UEFA chief Michel Platini has blasted "crooks" there, as expected fan numbers fall -- the situation is seen as far better in Poland.

In addition, while eight teams are set to play their group stage games in each country, England, Holland, Germany, Portugal and Denmark, all of whose matches are in Ukraine, picked Polish base-camps.

Used to a better image, the Poles are jittery about the prospect of a boycott by EU officials and a handful of west European governments of matches in Ukraine, under intense pressure over its treatment of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

While there has been no suggestion that games in Poland would also be cold-shouldered, there is a risk of being tarnished by association.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, himself a communist-era dissident, dubbed the stay-away calls "completely inappropriate", contrasting them with the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics sparked by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Underlining the message, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he understood the desire to stand with Tymoshenko, but that "nothing is stopping us from showing this solidarity clearly and strongly during the sporting event itself".

Piotrowski said the boycott calls could have a practical impact.

"We must take into consideration the scenario that more supporters will come to Poland and will spend the tournament here, just to be in one of the host countries," he explained.

"We're not racing with Ukraine. I want to underline that. We still treat this as a common project of the two countries," he said.

"I don't think that a boycott of a social and sporting event is the best way to communicate with the Ukrainian authorities. There must be other ways, without boycotting an event expected by millions of people here in Poland and Ukraine," he added.

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