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The Warsaw Voice » Business » March 29, 2012
Business & Economy
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Game On
March 29, 2012   
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Warsaw’s ultramodern National Stadium, built especially for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, which Poland is hosting together with Ukraine in June, opened with the Oto jestem (Here I Am) concert held there Jan. 29. But it was not until a month later that the stadium hosted its first sporting event, a friendly soccer match between Poland and Portugal. The match ended in a goalless draw.

The National Stadium will be the main Euro 2012 tournament venue in Poland, though matches will also be played in Gdańsk, Poznań and Wrocław. The facility cost nearly zl.2 billion, or around 500 million euros, to build and was constructed in a record 32 months. Around 12,000 workers on the construction site, 30,000 people across the country and over 1,000 businesses were involved in building the facility.

The stadium will host the opening match of the Euro 2012 tournament combined with official opening ceremonies, followed by three first-round matches, one quarterfinal and a semifinal.

The European soccer body UEFA, which is organizing the tournament, has given Warsaw’s National Stadium the highest rating, category four, in its classification of stadiums. The National Stadium has 58,145 seats for spectators, including 900 seats for the media, 800 VIP seats in 36 so-called skyboxes, 4,600 seats for special guests, and 106 seats for the disabled. The stadium’s partly transparent retractable roof made of fiberglass with a Teflon layer, protects not only the stands but also the pitch.

The multifunctional sporting facility has been designed to host music concerts and other cultural events as well as soccer matches. It has four restaurants and 50 fast-food outlets. Warsaw’s largest conference center, for 1,600 people, is located under the stands. The combined office and retail space on site covers 25,000 sq m. The parking garage under the pitch can accommodate 1,765 cars. Narodowe Centrum Sportu Sp. z o.o., the state-owned company which manages the stadium, estimates that from 2,000 to 3,000 people will be using the stadium’s premises daily.

The stadium’s annual maintenance expenses are estimated at zl.17 million. This means that the stadium has to generate income. Apart from Euro 2012 matches, 10 other large events are scheduled to be held at the stadium this year. These include the final match of the Polish American Football League tournament in mid-July and five concerts by international stars. Madonna is slated to play a concert here Aug. 1 and the band Coldplay is to perform in September. The stadium is capable of accommodating a crowd of 72,900 during concerts.

Recreational areas, a park, a sports and entertainment arena for 20,000 spectators, an Olympic-size swimming pool, hotel, office buildings and a conference center for 8,000 will be built near the stadium.

Communist legacy
The National Stadium is where the former Dziesięciolecia (10th Anniversary) Stadium was once located. That facility was built in a record time of 11 months; it opened to the public on July 22, 1955 on the 10th anniversary of communist rule in Poland. The last soccer match was played there in April 1983 when Poland and Finland tied 1:1 in a European championship qualifier. Soccer fans had to wait almost 30 years for another match on this site.

The Dziesięciolecia Stadium was an Olympic-size facility. Apart from the soccer pitch, it had a 400-meter eight-lane running track with a cinder and granite surface. Rubble from Warsaw’s buildings destroyed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising was used to build the embankment under the stands. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the stadium was a venue for track-and-field events, the final stages of the popular annual bike race called Peace Race, and soccer matches played by the Polish national team. The stadium was also used for cultural and propaganda purposes, as a venue for concerts, mass events and celebrations of anniversaries important to the communist authorities. The most tragic development in the history of the stadium took place during a national harvest festival on Sept. 8, 1968 when a man named Ryszard Siwiec set himself ablaze to protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces.

The stadium’s uncovered stands with wooden benches could officially seat 71,008 spectators, but on many occasions the turnout was much higher. It is estimated that around 100,000 people watched a track-and-field competition there between Poland and the United States in August 1958. A similar number took part in a mass that the late Pope John Paul II celebrated there in 1983.

Jarmark Europa
After 1983 the stadium fell into disrepair and its renovation or conversion was deemed unprofitable. In 1989, Warsaw City Hall leased the site for retail purposes to the Damis company, which took over maintenance of the facility. Damis turned the stadium into one of the largest marketplaces in Europe, called Jarmark Europa. Officially, more than 5,000 businesses operated here and their combined annual sales were over zl.500 million. But this was only the tip of the iceberg because most business was done under the table. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CB¦) says the actual sales figure could have exceeded zl.10 billion because Jarmark Europa soon became a hub of illegal trade in pirated software, weapons, cigarettes and alcohol. Consumers could buy “brand-name” Levi’s jeans sewn in China, pirated CDs produced in a Lithuanian garage, vodka and cigarettes smuggled in from Russia and even a Kalashnikov assault riffle complete with ammunition stolen from Red Army arsenals.

More than 25,000 proceedings were initiated in 1995-2001 against vendors operating at the stadium and around 10 million CDs and video cassettes were seized. Jarmark Europa operated until the end of September 2007, when the lease agreement with the Damis company expired.

The last event, a Red Bull X-Fighters motocross competition, was held at the Dziesięciolecia Stadium Sept. 6, 2008, with 35,000 spectators in attendance. After the competition, Mirosław Drzewiecki, the then sports and tourism minister, officially closed the Dziesięciolecia Stadium and work to build the National Stadium kicked off a month later.

Tempting the tourists
Poland ranks high in league tables of the most attractive tourist destinations in Europe. Tourists are mainly drawn here by the country’s wealth of natural attractions as well as many historical sites connected with Poland’s turbulent history. This year the Euro 2012 soccer championships, one of Europe’s biggest sporting events, will be a major attraction. The tournament will provide an excellent opportunity to promote Poland abroad.

Various estimates show that 750,000 to 1 million fans will head to Poland for Euro 2012. Many of these will be first-time visitors to Poland and whether they return here in the next few years as tourists depends on what kind of service they receive.

Euro 2012 matches will be played at eight stadiums in Ukrainian and Polish cities, four in each country. The capitals of the two countries, Kiev and Warsaw, will host the quarter and semifinals. Ukraine’s Kiev will host the final. Hotels and other facilities in Poland are waiting for the fans. In Poznań, Wrocław, Gdańsk and Warsaw—the Polish cities that will host Euro 2012 matches— there are almost 450,000 beds, nearly twice as many as required by UEFA from the host cities.

Access to Poland in terms of transportation will improve with the opening of an airport in Modlin near Warsaw. The airport authorities have declared it will be ready for Euro 2012. In June, only flights related to the championships will be in operation, while regular traffic will begin there in July.
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