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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 14, 2008
The Silesia Voice
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Śląski Stadium Vies for Euro 2012
May 14, 2008   
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There is ongoing public discussion on progress in Poland's preparations for the Euro 2012 soccer championships. Public anxiety is justified because so far not much has been done in this respect apart from increasingly concrete promises. But important decisions must not be put off until the last moment. The Portuguese got firsthand experience of the scale of Euro-related organizational problems. Then, the Greeks learned a lesson after they completed the construction of their facilities literally on the eve of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

In Poland, the mood is optimistic for the time being. But would not it be better to use existing facilities instead of incurring the risk involved in building new expensive stadiums? What about Śląski Stadium in Chorzów in the Upper Silesian conurbation in southern Poland, a stadium that can hold even the largest sporting events?

Numbers game
The decision to built Śląski Stadium on the premises of the Provincial Culture and Leisure Park in Chorzów, close to the boundaries of the conurbation's central city of Katowice, was made in 1950. The construction of the stadium, designed by Julian Brzuchowski, was completed in 1956 and was concurrent with the construction of Dziesięciolecia Stadium in Warsaw.

Initially, Śląski Stadium was officially able to accommodate 87,000 spectators, but in practice the number of fans it used to seat ranged from 90,000 to 100,000. An attendance record was set on Sept. 18, 1963 when 120,000 fans watched a European Cup match played between Górnik Zabrze and Austria Vienna here.

But as safety requirements for mass events became increasingly strict it was necessary to reduce the stadium's capacity. At present, its stands can seat 47,202 people, but after the planned upgrades and conversions to be made soon they will be able to accommodate 60,000 fans. As a result, Śląski Stadium will again become one of Europe's largest sports facilities.

120,000 fans watched a match played between Górnik Zabrze and Austria Vienna on Śląski Stadium in 1963.

Śląski Stadium is still the largest and one of the most modern stadiums in Poland. And this is where the most important matches, 50 in all, were played by the Polish national team. In 1993, the Polish Football Association (PZPN) granted it the status of a national stadium.

The multifunctional complex provides a venue not only for soccer matches but also other sporting and cultural events. Its distinctive shape has become a fixture of the local landscape and in the cultural life of the region and this is why local residents hope that Euro 2012 matches will be played here.

Sports mecca
The heated pitch of Śląski Stadium makes up a small part of the whole complex, which extends over an area of 22 hectares and includes an additional smaller pitch with artificial grass, floodlights and roofed stands with 400 seats. On June 3, 2005, Śląski Stadium became the first stadium in Poland to receive an international FIFA certificate from FIFA President Sepp Blatter. The complex, surrounded by a park, also includes tennis, basketball and handball courts, a body-building gym and a number of multifunctional facilities, such as a modern conference room for 500 people, restaurant and hotel.

Preparations are under way to build a roof over the stadium's main stands. The decision to abandon the initially chosen design triggered much speculation. In December last year, the Office of the Silesia Province Chairman sent inquiries concerning the construction of a roof over the stadium to 13 architects' offices in Europe. All the partners agreed to prepare designs by autumn this year. They also accepted the end of 2010 as the deadline for completing the project.

"There is no reason to claim that the deadline for building a roof over the stadium, the basic requirement which has to be met to have Euro 2012 matches played on Śląski Stadium, is under threat," says Daniel Tresenberg of the Office of the Silesia Province Chairman. This means that in 2010 Śląski Stadium will be the first stadium in Poland fully prepared to host important events such as the Euro 2012 tournament.

State of play
Many factors have to be taken into account in planning big events such as the Euro 2012 soccer championships. These factors include infrastructure and the transport network, hotels and accommodation, security and the standard of medical services. UEFA delegates visiting Silesia province evaluated the state of preparations in a number of areas.

On Feb. 27, one day before the visit, Silesia Province Chairman Bogusław Śmigielski detailed the state of preparations in the region for the Euro 2012 tournament. This presentation may influence UEFA's decision on whether or not to award the region the right to host some of the Euro 2012 matches. "We want to show that the tournament should be held on Śląski Stadium," Śmigielski said before his meeting with the delegates.

The itinerary of their visit also included meetings with Province Governor Zygmunt Łukaszczyk and Mayors of Chorzów and Katowice Marek Kopel and Piotr Uszok. The delegates had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the transport system in the region, accommodation and medical services. The delegates also saw four detailed presentations designed to help them become more familiar with the region.

The province chairman spoke about plans to sign an agreement with the city of Chorzów, under which the province government would be named as the main representative of the region in talks with UEFA. The aim is to avoid any misunderstandings in further negotiations. At present, UEFA's partner for talks is the city of Chorzów while it is the province government that is responsible for modernizing the stadium and building infrastructure related to Euro 2012.

UEFA experts surprised
UEFA experts visited Silesia in late February. The delegation was made up of five people, experts in a number of areas which were to be assessed: Philippe Bovy, Mateo Gambuto, Stefano Manelli, Peter Hampson and Patsy Trethowan.

Bovy from Switzerland is a researcher who professionally deals with transport organization during large sporting events. Gambuto and Manelli from Italy are also experts in transport. They were responsible for transport during the Olympic Winter Games in Turin in 2006. Hampson, from a British consulting company, is an expert in airports. And Trethowan from Australia deals with medical cover for large sporting events.

According to Silesia Province Governor Łukaszczyk, what the UEFA delegates saw was a conurbation united around a common goal and working like a well-oiled machine. The meetings were closed to the press but their outcome can be summed up in one sentence: the UEFA delegates were surprised that Chorzów was not one of the four Polish cities initially selected to host Euro 2012 matches.

Many factors contributed to the high marks Silesia province received from the delegates who assessed the state of its preparations for Euro 2012. Hotel accommodation was an important factor taken into account. The delegates stressed that accommodation should be located within a radius of two hours travel from Śląski Stadium, which means hotels situated in the Beskidy foothills to the south of Chorzów and in the nearby cities of Częstochowa and Cracow can also serve this purpose.

There are around 9 million people living within a radius of 100 kilometers from Śląski Stadium.

The province's medical services and transport network were also assessed well. The delegates visited medical establishments and traveled along the main thoroughfares of the Silesian conurbation. They were interested in the quality of public transport in the area, Pyrzowice airport and progress in building an expressway that is to run across the conurbation. "The region can be proud of its Pyrzowice airport, as it is well managed and has transparent plans for expansion, including the construction of a new runway," Hampson said.

UEFA will soon announce its final decision on whether Śląski Stadium will get to host some of the Euro 2012 matches. Śmigielski is optimistic. He says Chorzów still has a chance to become one of the host cities for the tournament.

Philippe Bovy, head of the UEFA delegation, commented after his visit to Silesia: "I am surprised that Chorzów is not one of the four cities initially selected to host Euro 2012. But we have gotten accustomed to championship hosts leaving it until the end to show off their best assets."

Unfortunately, the arguments that impressed the UEFA experts largely fall on deaf ears in Poland. Those who want to promote Silesia, politicians and local government workers have stressed on many occasions that a modern national stadium has already been built in the province and that after modernization it will meet all the requirements it has to meet to host such a prestigious event as the European soccer championships.

So why not use a facility that is already in place?

Jan Bogulski

Playing for Chorzów
Bogusław Śmigielski, chairman of Silesia province:

The Silesian Stadium in Chorzów should absolutely be included among the venues in Poland and Ukraine that will be hosting the European soccer championships in 2012. Currently, the Silesian Stadium is the third biggest stadium available in both countries, after those in Warsaw and Kiev. It is located in the center of the Silesian conurbation, which is formed by cities such as Katowice, Chorzów, Sosnowiec, Tychy and Piekary Śląskie. A UEFA commission that visited Silesia recently gave high ratings to these cities' hotel facilities, transport system and medical services.

There are some 50 hotels within a radius of 20 kilometers from the stadium. In the entire region, there are more than 120 hotels, including 12 five- and four-star facilities. They are adapted to the diverse requirements and financial capabilities of sports fans and tourists. Silesia has the country's best network of freeways and expressways. Its other strengths include a long-standing soccer tradition and the almost legendary status of the Silesian Stadium, where Poland's national soccer team has played some of its best matches. These factors are strong arguments in favor of including our region among the tournament venues.

Silesian Stadium Design Unveiled

During a press conference held March 20 at the Błękitna Hall in the Sejm Śląski building, Silesian Province Marshal Bogusław Śmigielski unveiled the proposed design of a new roof for the Silesian Stadium. It will be supported by 40 arches. The design is the work of gmp Architekten studio from Aachen, Germany.

"The design emphasizes the Silesian Stadium's pluses-the openness and scenic value of this multifunction facility," said architect Grzegorz Sowiński from the contract engineering company responsible for modernizing the stadium. "The bright, transparent roof will let light through during daytime events and will provide for spectacular light effects visible from the outside during nighttime events."

A complete architectural design will be ready by the year's end, and then a contractor selection procedure will be launched. Construction works are expected to begin next year.

"I'm sure that the project will be completed by 2010," said Śmigielski.

On April 28, in the Sejm Śląski building, an agreement between the Silesian province authorities and gmp-Generalplanungsgesellschaft was officially signed for the design blueprint of a new roof and the technical infrastructure for the Silesian Stadium

Jan Bogulski
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