Ukraine, Poland end highly-politicised football cup

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Most commentators were positive about Ukraine and Poland's hosting of the Euro 2012 football championship, despite media badmouthing of Kyiv and a boycott at the political level over the imprisonment of the country's former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

"Poland and Ukraine have organised a fantastic tournament," UEFA President Michel Platini. "Never was the phrase 'Creating History Together' more true in terms of economy, infrastructure, football development and social development.”

The organisation of the football tournament in the neighbouring countries required a huge effort and construction of stadiums, hotels, roads, airports and other infrastructure. On a recent visit to Brussels, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said 2,000 km of highways had been built in Ukraine in time for the championship.

About 342,000 foreigners arrived in the Ukrainian capital on the eve of yesterday’s final between Spain and Italy. Thousands strolled through the fan zone in the city centre, snapping up souvenirs including football shirts.

The public fan zone held a successful rehearsal on Saturday when about 100,000 fans attended a joint gig by Elton John and Queen. Police reported no disturbances.

Foreigners discovered that the Ukrainians are a modern and friendly European nation, far from negative media stereotypes, such as a much-noticed attempt by the BBC to portray the country’s football fans as racist and dangerous.

Football diplomacy

With the record score of 4-0, Spain became the first team to win three major tournaments in a row, having lifted the European Championship trophy in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010.

The match will be remembered for having softened an EU boycott over the imprisonment of Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution, was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 on abuse-of-office charges.

After Italy won its ticket for the final against Germany on 28 June, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, along with Prince Felipe of Asturias, heir to the Spanish throne, planned to attend the final.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski also attended. Poland as a co-host, was opposed to the boycott.

But had Germany reached the final, no EU leader would have attended, diplomats told EurActiv. Chancellor Angela Merkel is a football fan, but she has also spearheaded a "tough" stance vis-a-vis Ukraine.

No representatives of the EU institutions attended the matches. Despite being a football fan, Commission President José Manuel Barroso didn’t attend any of the four matches of his native Portugal, three of which were played in the Ukrainian city of Lviv and the last one in Warsaw.

EU politicians ‘only punished themselves’

In an op-ed published by The Guardian, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the EU Kostiantyn Yielisieiev wrote that the ordinary EU citizens who went to Ukraine proved to be wiser that the politicians who boycotted the tournament.

“I have been there and the emotions I felt were unforgettable. Euro 2012 has united Ukraine, restoring a strong sense of pride in the Ukrainian identity and lit up the country,” the diplomat wrote, before continuing.

“[The EU politicians] presence or absence did not influence this. To their credit and benefit, ordinary EU citizens have shown wisdom coming to Ukraine, thereby turning their leaders' political boycott into self-isolation.”

Yielisieiev also praised UEFA for what he said was a difficult decision to hold the Euro 2012 cup in Poland and Ukraine.

“The tournament has become a genuine festival of people-to-people contacts and cultural exchange in a wider United Europe, by taking place in ‘undiscovered territory’. Isn't this a quintessence of the most important EU policies and values?”, he wrote.

The next Euro 2016 will be hosted by France. But for 2020, Platini launched the inspiring idea that the tournament could take place all across Europe, with even some small countries being able to host one of the 31 matches.

"This is an idea I feel passionate about, it could be very interesting moving forward," Platini said. UEFA aims at taking a decision in December or January.

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