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Construction Delays Threaten Euro 2012 Preparations

With the Euro 2008 over, attention has turned to Poland and Ukraine which jointly host the soccer championship in 2012 and where construction delays and sluggish preparations are threatening to scupper the event.

Olympic Stadium in Kiev, ukraine

Kiev's national Olympic Stadium, built in 1927, badly needs a face-lift

Evhen Chervonenko, chairman of Ukraine's Euro 2012 organizing committee, is a nervous man. Between hurried drags on his cigarette, the 49-year-old former professional racing driver and ex transport minister says his racing experience taught him lessons that stand him in good stead right now.

"I was a racing driver in the Soviet Union, I drove with Walter Roehrl in Austria. I have one clear rule," Chervonenko said. "When I'm in charge of a project it's like when I sit in a racing car -- never look in the rearview mirror."

Despite the tough talk, there's no denying that Chervonenko is a man under enormous pressure. On Thursday, July 3 UEFA President Michel Platini is to lead an investigative mission to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, after visiting Warsaw. The delegation is to meet with presidents and top-ranking government and soccer officials.

Political fighting hampers preparations

The visit comes at a time when both Ukraine and Poland are under mounting pressure to speed up their preparations for the Euro 2012 and rebuff fears they are unable to upgrade their shaky infrastructure and build new stadiums and hotels in time.

In Ukraine, the biggest hurdle in preparations remains the renovation of Kiev's 80,000-seat Olympic stadium which is to host the Euro 2012 final.

Last week, the Ukrainian government dismissed a Taiwanese firm which had won a contract to reconstruct the stadium, citing legal problems.

Ukraine's President Yushchenko and Polish President Kaczynski

It all looked so good back then -- Ukraine's President Yushchenko, right, and Polish President Kaczynski last year when they won the bid

Political squabbling between Ukraine's president and prime minister, reportedly trying to undermine each other ahead of the 2010 presidential elections, has further hampered preparations.

Chervonenko has accused the government of holding up necessary funding for the championship and of failing to do everything possible to avoid the "major embarrassment" if Ukraine lost its right to be co-host.

Corruption remains a concern

Some have also criticized the lack of laws ensuring building contracts are transparent.

Nico Lange, head of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kiev said red tape and corruption continued to plague preparations in Ukraine.

"We've unfortunately observed during these preparations that many people in key administrative positions are striving to divert as many funds as possible," Lange said.

While there was a strong interest among officials to line their own pockets and profit from the Euro 2012, there was little appetite for making a joint effort to push ahead with the project, Lange added.

Some international observers remain skeptical whether Ukraine can really pull off the job.

Kamen Zahariev, director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Kiev said the country faced a formidable challenge. The banker said he could free up a million euros towards cheap credits for the tournament but added the money would not be touched.

"There's a whole string of hurdles because the reform process in Ukraine is so slow," Zahariev said. "And that means many institutions aren't in a position to formulate and implement long-term projects."

Ukraine's sluggishness has confounded some critics who point out the Euro 2012 affords an excellent platform for the country to burnish its image.

Zahariev said the tournament was a chance for Ukraine to present itself as a reliable partner and drum up support for EU membership.

The view was echoed by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who is part of the Euro 2012 organizing committee. "It's a unique chance for Ukraine to present itself and to introduce European standards," he said.

Plans for a backup host?

Poland faces similar problems, in particular with its sagging infrastructure. The country needs to overhaul its crumbing roadways and upgrade existing roads and build badly needed new ones. Poland's government too is widely seen as dragging its feet on the issue. Warsaw is to host the opening match in a new 55,000-seat national stadium.

The obstacles dogging preparations in both countries has fueled speculation that UEFA may have plans for a backup host possibly Germany, Italy or Scotland.

Michel Platini, UEFA president

Platini is more guarded now after awarding the tournament to Ukraine and Poland last year

However, Platini told reporters last weekend in Vienna that "there is no backup plan" right now. But he warned that UEFA would find a new host if a new national stadium in Warsaw and the renovation of Kiev's Olympic stadium were not ready in time.

"That would be the only decision to make us decide not to have the tournament in Poland and Ukraine," Platini said ."If no stadiums, no tournament."

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