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The Warsaw Voice » Society » November 12, 2008
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Goal: 2012
November 12, 2008   
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Marcin Herra, chairman of the PL2012 company, which is coordinating Poland's preparations for the Euro 2012 soccer championships that the country will host together with Ukraine, talks to Urszula Imienińska.

What have you accomplished since you became chairman of the PL2012 company in February?
The most important thing is that we have managed to build a team. We have hired national coordinators responsible for key areas such as infrastructure, stadium construction, hotels, airports, telecommunications, intellectual property, safety, and marketing. We have also established good relations with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and our Ukrainian partners, and paid visits to the cities that will be Euro 2012 venues. We have made a detailed schedule of preparations to make sure the event is a success.

We also closely followed the organizational efforts of Switzerland and Austria, the two countries which hosted Euro 2008. In Austria, the event resulted in a better road infrastructure and public safety, and so-called fan zones were built from scratch as an important part of the project. The impressive scale of the event was reflected by the fact that the Fan Zone in Vienna, for example, could hold 72,000 people. We were observing and learning things. It is enough to say that Euro 2008 generated a profit of 250 million euros [for the host countries].

Our own schedule, referred to as the Master Plan, includes more than 360 investment projects, not including accommodation centers and hotels. It is set out in great detail. By the second and third quarters of next year more than 50 percent of these projects will be under construction. We already know how many ambulances we will need, how hospitals should be prepared and equipped, and how firefighting services should operate.

In July, UEFA head Michel Platini visited Poland. He reaffirmed that Euro 2012 would be held in Poland and Ukraine, thus putting an end to speculation that the UEFA might still decide to hold the tournament somewhere else.

We didn't have to paint the grass green before Platini's arrival. I think that UEFA officials were really satisfied with the state of Poland's preparations for the event. They stressed several times that Poland has accelerated its preparations significantly over the past several months. UEFA knows that well because it is being kept informed on the preparations on an ongoing basis. Our coordinators contact UEFA experts practically every day.

That is why we were not worried about the results of the talks. This was Platini's first visit to Poland since our country was selected to host the event. During his most important meetings, with the president and prime minister, Platini was assured that preparations for the event would go on smoothly.

What about the problems being experienced by Ukraine?
UEFA delegates were pleased to learn that we are trying to help our Ukrainian partners. It was stressed that this is a joint project and we were asked to share our management experiences. There are nine main areas of cooperation. Each group includes five to eight experts from Poland and five to eight experts from Ukraine. "Two countries, one team," as the Ukrainian ambassador to Poland once put it.

Work is under way to demolish the Dziesięciolecia Stadium in Warsaw to prepare the site for the construction of the National Stadium. Will this new facility be built on time?
The first phase of building the National Stadium in Warsaw is taking place according to schedule and may even be completed ahead of time. We signed the demolition contract in September and three weeks later there were very few traces left of the former stadium. What's more, few people in Warsaw have even noticed that tons of rubble are being transported from the site every day. Contrary to earlier fears, the trucks have caused no traffic jams.

The construction project in Warsaw is moving along, and in Gdańsk and Wrocław, construction permits have been issued as well, with bidding processes in progress. In Chorzów, there is a preliminary design for further modernization of the existing stadium. Construction work is also under way in Poznań and Cracow.

We have launched a data management system called Stadium Online Portal 2012. The system has won high ratings from the UEFA, which said it should be a model example for similar systems in Western Europe. Cameras will be installed at each stadium and everyone will be able to monitor the progress of work over the internet.

Are there any serious obstacles that could stop the Euro 2012 preparations in their tracks?
The bidding procedures. It is enough that there is a month's delay somewhere along the line, or a bidder files a complaint, and a specific project may fall behind schedule. The PL2012 company's task is to coordinate things and make sure such situations do not occur. I have already met with the head of the Public Procurement Office and we plan to work closely together in this area in order to minimize that risk.

Meanwhile, UEFA has released another report evaluating Poland's preparations for Euro 2012. This time the report deals with the work on stadiums. What are the conclusions?
UEFA clearly said that Poland has accelerated work in this area in recent months. It pointed out that the country has already selected stadium designers, that preliminary designs are ready, and that work is under way on detailed construction designs. One-third of the costs of building the stadiums will be covered by the Polish government. UEFA is only worried about the completion dates. The organization's experts are worried that bidding procedures might take longer than expected and that construction process may be obstructed by the shortage of labor force now that many Polish construction workers have left the country to work in the West.

Euro 2012 is not only about stadiums. What about the airports, hotels and roads?
The airports are the best part of the deal. They have been developing fast recently. All have modernization plans and ensured financing. The situation is worse in the case of hotels, but we exactly know how many have to be built for Euro 2012 and there should be no problems with that.

Road construction will pose the biggest difficulty. There is an ambitious plan to build more than 3,000 kilometers of freeways and expressways in Poland, but we may encounter obstacles. In order to hold the tournament, we need stadiums, airports, hotels, and access roads. That is the bare minimum. If in addition a modern freeway network is created, that will be great. But even if we do not manage to build freeways, like those in Germany, for example, the championships will take place anyway. Euro 2012 offers Poland an opportunity to make a great leap forward in terms of development-an opportunity that we must not waste. We can promote Poland as a country that is worth visiting and worth investing in.

Euro 2012 is a good opportunity to mark the country's presence in the world and a good time to promote Poland and its hospitality and reliability. But the big question is: will we manage to complete the preparations on time?
Take Portugal. In 1990, when the country was selected to hold the Euro 2004 championships, the Portuguese were exhilarated; 90 percent of them believed in the event's success. After a year of preparations, that enthusiasm dwindled to a mere 30 percent. Why? The stadiums weren't ready yet and most of the projects were still in the design or planning stages. Later, support for the project started to grow again. After the championships, nearly all the Portuguese were proud of their tournament.

In Poland, a few months ago the stadiums were still only on paper, because in order to be constructed, they have to be designed first, like any other facility. Now the stage of selecting contractors has begun, and in some places, like Poznań, Cracow and Warsaw, construction work is already under way. We have created a Master Plan for six cities, describing what should happen each week so that the projects are completed on time.

There are no risk-free projects, and the same holds for Euro 2012. Now we need to make consistent efforts to meet the schedule's deadlines to make sure we are well prepared.

Does this mean you are not losing sleep over what might happen?
I can feel the responsibility but I'm not afraid. I have handled many difficult tasks in my life, and I've always been successful. It will be the same this time. I know we will succeed. We have a good team, the money, and a good plan, so I believe we will carry out this ambitious project called Euro 2012.
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