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18 July, 2011

Own Goal

Boosting the investment image of the country, drumming up business, attracting foreign investment and improving infrastructure – Ukraine does not stand a chance of coming even close to any of these goals

I like the Euro 2012 logo. It’s creative and it's mental. I also like, in general, the new design for the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv. It may not be Stade Olympique in Montreal or Soccer City in Johannesburg, but considering the prevailing level of architecture in this field in Ukraine, I am at least not ashamed. It is, actually, the only thing I am not ashamed of here. I find everything else related to Euro 2012 awkward or irritating.

Let me begin with the main thing: Why do countries compete for the right to host events of this kind? There are a number of motives and all of them are well-known and the difference may be only in priority: boosting the international image of the country, drumming up business (and not only in the tourism sector), attracting foreign investments (according to experts, Ukraine will pay 90% of the total costs), improving infrastructure (also outside Kyiv). But Ukraine does not stand a chance of coming even close to any of these goals.

Of course, it is not the current government that is to blame and perhaps not even the Ukrainian government as such in the first place. The idea of co-hosting a European championship together with Poland was hatched under President Leonid Kuchma by the leadership of the national soccer federation, which at that time was on very familiar terms with the president. This was when a bid was submitted which many at the time did not treat seriously. Indeed, who knows what may happen in eight years. The economy was on the rise; the vertical of power was becoming stronger; the president's successor was preparing to take the top post. In short, everything was under control.

Again, we should not discount the factor of vanity which is typically hard to separate from financial motives. They say that Montenegro’s Ministry of Tourism spent its entire advertisement budget for 2006 to pay Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to have just one episode of a James Bond movie set in their country.

What was done after the dream became reality in April 2007 can be summed up in one word – nothing(Except for the new stadium in Donetsk.) On every inspection visit to Ukraine, Michel Platini seemed to be more embarrassed than his hosts. Incidentally, the previous administration will hardly be able to blame the crisis – neighboring Poland also had a hard time but not this kind of couldn’t-care-less attitude. Then the Party of Regions took power, quickly put things in order, channeled money the right direction and got down to business. But this, again, raises the question of how much Euro 2012 will cost Ukraine.

Let me be frank: I am no longer interested in knowing how much has been and will be stolen of the billions of hryvnias the state has officially splurged on the preparations. It is vain to hope to somehow prevent embezzlement or at least we can punish the guilty later. Nor am I interested in knowing what necessary things will fail to be done, things that would spare our blushes as far as the country’s image is concerned. Relying only on budget finances and the kind of administration typical of the first Soviet five-year plans, it is impossible to foresee every small detail and fill every hole, literally and figuratively. It takes a modern free economy and the initiative of private business, including the smallest businesses, one not forced to protest on the Maidan to defend their rights. Even if we avoid a global scandal, we will not be spared quiet shame on a daily basis as guests will be frustrated at every turn with escalators that don't work and “altruistic” taxi drivers at the airport, roads riddled with holes, student dorms instead of hotels, less-than-friendly service, kamikaze fixed-route taxis, taciturn police, traffic jams, restrooms and, of course, prices! Well, they will see us as we really are. Is this what we wanted? Did we want Europe to become finally convinced that we don’t belong in it?

In a word, it’s too late to change anything. We can only closely watch the process and learn lessons for the future. First, contemporary sports are a gigantic well-tuned business mechanism that follows certain rules. You can join it without pain if you stick to these rules, instead of coming in with your own ideas on the level of a trucking company. Second, if you care about the country’s future, you need to think hard about how to manage billions of hryvnias.

We need to free ourselves from this imbecilic self-hypnosis. The other day I read an author I like: “The fact that Ukraine … has the honor to host … is a source of pride for the country.” Pride for what? The billions or the escalator? We can’t go on like this, people! We have to wake up and grow up. And quickly, too. And by that, I mean now!

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