Travel

Euro buzz builds in Poland and Ukraine

The mascots of the Euro 2012 are pictured in a duty-free shop at the Boryspil International airport in Kiev. — AFP picThe mascots of the Euro 2012 are pictured in a duty-free shop at the Boryspil International airport in Kiev. — AFP picWARSAW, May 30 — As the clock ticks down to Euro 2012, the buzz is building in host nations Poland and Ukraine, though a section of the population of both countries seems immune to football frenzy.

Opinion is split between those relishing the party mood that surrounds sporting showcases like the European championship, and those far from enthused.

The 16-nation tournament kicks off in Warsaw on June 8 and ends with the final in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on July 1.

“It’s going to be crazy and loud,” said student Monika Kowalska, 19, sitting in the sun at the foot of Warsaw’s city centre Palace of Culture.

The lofty, Stalinist-kitsch “gift” from the Soviets, now a landmark, will be the hub of a fanzone for 100,000 people, the largest in Poland or Ukraine.

“The atmosphere’s going to be great the whole time, even if Poland get knocked out early,” said Kowalska’s boyfriend Rafal Szmit, also 19.

Over the nearby River Vistula lies Warsaw’s brand-new National Stadium, venue for the first match of Euro 2012, Poland against Euro 2004 champions Greece.

To stoke the atmosphere, Warsaw’s refurbished railway station has been decked out with flag-painted faces of fans of the Euro 2012 teams, while a salon nearby is offering to dye hair and paint nails in their colours.

Slowly but surely, the folk-inspired Euro 2012 logo and spiky-haired mascots Slavek and Slavko are invading shop windows and shelves, on anything from chocolate to sportswear.

Slavek in Poland’s white and red and Slavko in Ukraine’s yellow and blue line the lampposts of Warsaw’s main Nowy Swiat street.

In 2007, Ukraine and neighbouring Poland were surprise winners of the race to host the quadrennial championship, beating favourites Italy.

It marks the first time European football’s governing body Uefa has opted to hold the top tournament behind the former Iron Curtain, meaning it is a crucial showcase of the hosts.

The infrastructure challenges have been massive, with the Polish and Ukrainian state funding the bulk, albeit mostly for much-needed transport projects.

The host cities have been vast building sites, leading to grumbling from some residents, who also feel football is taking over.

“It’s going to be great for restaurateurs and hotels, but for ordinary people, much of a muchness,” said retired engineer Darek Sikora, 73, in a Warsaw park.

“It’s going to be an inconvenience,” he added. “Getting around won’t be easy.”

Surveys in both countries show the public is far from gung-ho.

A study in Poland showed that 44 per cent were happy to host Euro 2012, six per cent were unhappy and 49 per cent were indifferent.

A similar poll in Ukraine found 50 per cent support, while 32 per cent were critical.

“I’m indifferent to football, and I don’t see that the tournament gives our city anything,” said teacher Maria Stefanovych, 39, in Lviv, western Ukraine.

“The only thing is that some roads were repaired. But it had to be done without this Euro 2012,” she told AFP.

“We live in the centre, where the fanzone is set up, so I don’t want to listen to the thousands of drunkards screaming. Perhaps some businessmen will earn something, but ordinary people won’t get anything,” she added.

But journalist Oleksandr Peremot, 23, in Donestk in eastern Ukraine, was upbeat.

“It’s a great event, which will have a positive impact on Ukraine’s relations with European countries,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for ordinary Ukrainians to communicate with foreign supporters who will come to Ukraine, as not many ordinary inhabitants of Donetsk can afford to travel abroad,” he added.

The open question is whether enthusiasm will wither if Poland and Ukraine fare badly on the pitch.

“Doing well would have a boost for the atmosphere during the tournament,” Mikolaj Piotrowski, spokesman for the tournament organisers, told AFP.

That was echoed by top Uefa official Martin Kallen, who recalled Euro 2004 host Portugal’s sterling performance in reaching the final.

“I’m really hoping very much that the two teams have a good start to the event, that’ll give real fire,” he said. — AFP/Relaxnews