Legacy? We'll have to wait and see ...

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2012, 12:00am


When covering a major sporting event in a developing country, you obsess over the promised legacies as you do the winners and losers. Most of the Beijing 2008 promises made by the International Olympic Committee and Bocog (the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) were kept, others clearly broken.

Beijing's infrastructure made quantum leaps and the Chinese showed the world their awe-inspiring work ethic and hospitality, and sporting prowess.

The first former Soviet bloc countries to host the Euros have splashed out almost US$39 billion on preparations - US$25 billion in Poland and US$14 billion in Ukraine. When asked what the legacies would be, Uefa president Michel Platini said: new highways, renovated hotels, high-speed railways and spanking new stadiums in the eight venue cities. '[The] legacy will be felt in those countries for years to come,' he said.

The stadiums are living up to the hype. And the roads in Poland will be great once they are finished, and that will be a while yet; the express trains remain deathly slow - maintenance, apparently - and the hotels, if they have been renovated, require a small mortgage to stay in. More of this insane overcharging in a later post because the legions of extortionists deserve special mention.

Having just stepped out of my Land Rover after another stunning and demanding drive to make one half of the group B climax in Lviv, transport is key. Take the infamous autostrada A2 in Poland, which has its own Wikipedia page. Nothing odd in that, as many roads warrant a special mention. The Silk Road, or the Beijing 5th Ring Road - a terrific way to travel so long as you do so between 2am and 4am when most Beijingers are asleep. And of course, the mother of them all, the M25 - London's orbital, which to many is a gridlocked treadmill going nowhere.

No, the A2 is special because it links Poland to the heart of Europe, and is fashioned in German autobahn-style. It was completed a day before the opening ceremony, but not before my arrival and I was abruptly diverted onto the old single carriageway 40 kilometres outside of the Polish capital. That last stretch took nearly two hours to complete and induced nightmares.

Much work still needs be done and its premature unveiling was a face-saving exercise by the government. Access roads are half completed and one section of the road, awarded to a Chinese construction company, Covec, caused massive headaches and embarrassment. Covec was sacked after running into financial trouble and failing to pay subcontractors. A Polish contractor brought in to replace the Chinese also went bankrupt. This troublesome bitumen baton is now in the hands of a Czech contractor, which is close to fulfilling its obligations.

Of course, this road and the others under construction are not just for soccer supporters. 'We are not just building roads for Euro 2012 but for Poles for years to come,' Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak said. Well, that is true but Nowak is also motivated by his long-term career plans. As with Beijing, the success of this tournament could make or break the political future of the country's incumbent leaders. Premier Donald Tusk said he was the man to be trusted to tarmac a smooth path to the Polish future, with main arteries leading away from the east and decades of former Soviet influence.

After being awarded the Euros, Warsaw announced in 2008 plans to build 900km of highways and 2,100km of lesser expressways. But this was vastly ambitious and Tusk's team of political navvies had to drastically shrink the plans. What remains will still drive inward investment at a steady speed into Poland. But a date cannot be put on that milestone.

At the pre-tournament press conference, Platini said Ukraine had made a '30-year' leap forward in its infrastructure, thanks to Euro 2012. Word of this progress has not yet reached the Poland-Ukraine border. 'You are going to Donetsk?' said soldier Bohdan with surprise as he nosed about inside my Land Rover. 'Whoa. That is a long way. I think Ukraine will be out of the tournament by the time you get there.'

The roads are that bad? 'From here to Lviv, the road [a 60km/h single carriageway] is good. From Lviv to Kiev [560km], how do you say ...' he said, wobbling gently his splayed hand. 'In the middle, not good, not bad,' he added, palm rocking left to right. And what about the road from Kiev to the Donbass stadium in Donetsk (800km)? 'Same,' he said. Have you seen any other British licence plates come through? 'No. You are the first. I think most will fly there. Good luck, English,' he said, hand now flat and steady, waving me on.