Euros may be in trouble. Poland ok, but Ukraine is a mess.

Not since the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo has Eastern Europe staged a sporting event the magnitude of Euro 2012. As co-host, Ukraine hopes to showcase itself 26 years after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and two decades after it gained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Yet the soccer championships will be played amid a planned political boycott of Ukraine by some European leaders over the imprisonment of a former prime minister, the 51-year-old Yulia V. Tymoshenko, and accusations of an erosion of democracy.

The European Union has condemned Tymoshenko’s abuse-of-office conviction last October and her seven-year prison sentence as politically motivated. It has called for her release and shelved landmark association and free trade deals with Ukraine over the issue. Tymoshenko is suffering from intense pain and partial paralysis caused by a herniated spinal disk after being beaten. After months of Western pressure, she was moved last month to a local clinic in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where her prison is located. Tymoshenko is being treated there under the supervision of German doctors, because she says she doesn’t trust Ukrainian health authorities.

The top opposition leader is also recovering from a nearly three-week long hunger strike launched to protest the alleged beating. Photographs of bruises on her stomach and arm caused international outrage, and led to a number of EU officials and governments refusing to attend games played in Ukraine.

One of the German doctors treating her, Dr. Anett Reisshauer from Germany’s Charite clinic said Tymoshenko’s health was improving, but she was still seriously ill.

European leaders are also considering a boycott of Ukraine’s part of the European football championship, which it will stage in June and July together with Poland. The delay means Tymoshenko’s hearings will resume during the Euro 2012 tournament and less than a week before the July 1 final in Kiev.

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Widely publicized concerns have been expressed about racism, overly aggressive police, the spending of more than $13 billion to host the event in a struggling economy and exorbitant hotel prices charged to visitors. “Ukraine will not receive any financial income or significant economic impact from co-hosting the Euro 2012 championship,” Andriy Kolpakov, managing partner at analytical group Da Vinci AG, said. “And any possible improvement in image has run up against internal politics and the European Union’s reaction to it.”

And despite the hopes of tour operators and the authorities themselves, once the competition – taking place in four Ukrainian cities – is over and the fans have gone home, it is by no means certain that Ukraine will have registered itself as a new European tourist destination.

The mathematics of financing Euro 2012, being co-hosted with Poland, are crucial for a country which faces $11.9bn in debt obligations this year, $5.3bn of which is denominated in foreign currencies.

Analysts at Da Vinci forecast financial losses suffered from hosting the championship could total between $6bn and $8bn. The National Bank of Ukraine sees $1bn in capital flowing into the country from visitors who will spend on restaurants, hotels and souvenirs during the month-long championship in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv.

But some see lesser benefits and Da Vinci estimates the influx at no more than $800m.

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But complicated racial issues have also arisen as the families of two of England’s black players have said they will probably not attend the 16-team tournament, fearing abuse or violence in Ukraine, where the team will play its first three matches. A BBC documentary depicting racism at soccer games there has further inflamed emotions.

Although racism in soccer has been a continuing problem in England, Italy and Spain, it has by degree seemed to be more virulent at matches in Eastern Europe, with some fans making monkey chants and throwing bananas at black players, while others have given Nazi salutes and chanted, “Sieg heil.”

In 2011, the Bulgarian soccer federation was fined after fans made monkey chants toward the English players Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole during a European qualifying match in Sofia. Also last year, the Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos walked off the field when a banana was thrown  toward him at a league match in Russia.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 at 16:36 and is filed under Professional Soccer, Soccer Business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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