Red cards against Ukraine, Poland
Posted on 09 June 2012, Author: Bénédicte Williams
The sporting world is bracing for the opening of the Euro 2012 football championship this Friday and lasting until 1 July. While the event is jointly organised by Poland and Ukraine, it is the latter that has been capturing much of the attention, mostly for the wrong reasons.
Poland has declared itself ready to host the games, with four new stadiums in Warsaw, Poznan, Gdansk and Wroclaw, which Prime Minister Donald Tusk says are among the most modern in the world.
With Japanese-style capsules and ferry boats brought to the rescue to increase the number of beds in Poland, accommodation seems to be under control but internal transport remains a challenge with barely half of the planned motorways ready and train infrastructure still outdated.
But racism, rocketing hotel prices, the scourge of prostitution and rows between Ukrainian and Western political leaders are among the issues casting a shadow over the games in Ukraine.
Room charges up over 1000%
Fears of racist attacks by hooligans were exacerbated after a BBC documentary in May showed footage of violence, anti-Semitic chanting and Nazi salutes in a stadium in eastern Ukraine, prompting former England captain Sol Campbell to call for fans to stay home and watch on TV to avoid “coming back in a coffin”.
Ukrainian authorities have since denied that hooliganism is as big a problem as in other countries, and said foreign fans should not worry.
Ordinary Ukrainians too have been seeking to prove their country’s friendliness by offering services ranging from airport pick-ups, city tours and free lodging to those looking for an alternative to expensive hotels. The country’s accommodation has proved controversial with prices increasing exponentially in advance of the tournament. UEFA president Michel Platini spoke in April of “bandits and crooks” after room charges were found to have increased over tenfold, bookings made several months ago were cancelled and some university students were forced out of their rooms.
Topless female activists from the Ukrainian Femen group are likely to continue hitting the headlines too by staging protests to warn against the sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women during the tournament, and to demand that awareness campaigns be put in place against sex tourism by football fans.
Ukraine’s role as Euro 2012 co-host is also overshadowed by the jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for seven years last October on charges of abuse of authority in the signing of a natural gas contract with Russian energy company Gazprom.
French and German presidents Francois Hollande and Joachim Glauck and presidents of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and Council Herman van Rompuy are among some of the EU leaders who have said they will not attend while Tymoshenko remains in prison.
Speaking on the margins of a meeting with Hollande on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke against a boycott for political reasons but said he considers her conviction unjust. “Prior to the signing of the contracts, our lawyers thoroughly analysed Russian, international and Ukrainian laws,” Putin was quoted as saying by state-run news agency RIA Novosti. “We never sign contracts contradicting the laws of the contract partner country, in this case Ukraine.”
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