Comment: Euro 2012 a distant memory as principal legacy of Uefa's flagship tournament is a wedge driven between a government and it's people
The violence in the Ukrainian capital in recent weeks has stemmed from a tournament that has left a legacy that nobody could have been expected to foresee
Saturday 01 March 2014
Mikhail knew what lay in store for him.
“After the tournament is over and all the international media have left, you will never hear from any of us again,” he said from the anti-government protest camp positioned yards outside the FanZone that had been hastily erected in central Kiev for Euro 2012.
“The police will leave us alone while everyone is watching but they will come for us when it is all over.”
Mikhail abruptly stopped replying to emails three days after the final of Euro 2012, but we have heard a lot more from his fellow protesters in these last few weeks.
Some 300 metres from that protest camp on Kreshchatyk Street – the equivalent of Regent's Street – is Independence Square, or Maidan as it has become known, the epicentre of the revolution that has swept Ukraine.
Seeing the pictures of Independence Square as it looks now it is hard to believe Euro 2012 was just 20 months ago, yet the tournament played an important part in what is going on today.
The principal legacy of Euro 2012 was to drive a greater wedge between the people and their government, weakening already fragile social structures and helping to fan the revolutionary flames.
As the only British journalist based in Kiev for the duration of the tournament I discovered you did not have to scratch the surface too hard to realise there may have been some basis in accusations of corruption levelled at President Viktor Yanukovych's government.
“He embezzled funds on other projects, not this one. I can account for every penny we spent,” smiled Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov when I asked him whether he was concerned that the construction manager of the Olympic Stadium redevelopment, Volodymyr Artiukh, had admitted to embezzling $3m of public money from a state bank.
The redevelopment of the existing stadium in Kiev cost $550m, double that of the privately funded Donbass Arena in Donetsk, which was built from scratch.
It seemed wise not to argue too much with Kolesnikov. The first words he said during our interview was 'I gather you want to ask me if I have stolen $4bn,' a reference to opposition claims that 40% of the $10bn budget for the tournament had disappeared – an equivalent of $200 from every Ukrainian citizen – and his last were equally loaded.
“Enjoy your stay at Hotel Adria,” he said, shutting the door with a smile as it slowly dawned on me that I had not told him where I was staying.
More obvious methods of intimidation were practised on Ukrainians.
Two colleagues and I spent an afternoon interviewing Femen, otherwise known as the topless protestors. They had been arrested by the Secret Police the previous night; their bruises were a testament to how they had been treated.
When our interview was over Inna Shevchenko, their spokeswoman, put her fingers to her lips and led us outside her ground-floor flat. There we discovered six policemen, two with ears pressed against the wall, listening to our every word.
They left when they realised western journalists were present, but returned to their posts as soon as we had departed.
The protestors were undaunted though. They took heart from the fact that international leaders boycotted the tournament, with politicians from the likes of the UK, Germany and France refusing to attend matches in Ukraine in protest at Yanukovych's regime.
The temporary amnesty for those on the front line – not even Yanukovych, a master of disastrous PR, could raise the protest camp on Kreshchatyk during the tournament – meant they could plan in plain sight and convert more to their cause.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the thousands of visiting supporters gave the protestors even more encouragement that their future should be aligned to the west, rather than Russia – with Yanukovych's decision to turn towards Moscow rather than Brussels the spark that led to his downfall.
To say that Euro 2012 led to recent events would be incorrect; issues over Ukraine's future and the behaviour of its leaders stretch back much further.
But the tournament does seem to have helped speed up the process, and as the football world prepares to travel to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 the sport's power to bring about genuine, lasting change has never been stronger.
“The Euros will leave a very important legacy in these countries,” said UEFA President Michel Platini the day before the Final of Euro 2012.
“Never before has a slogan been more true – 'let's create history together' – in terms of social development, and promoting these countries all over the world.”
As the smoke has cleared in Kiev it seems one idol was left untouched; the figure of Valeriy Lobanovskyi, enshrined in bronze, is still intact.
He sits outside Dynamo Kiev's old home, which lies on Hrushevskoho Street, the road that links Parliament and Independence Square.
A hundred people died on that road and Institutskaya Street, which is one road further south. The latter has been renamed by locals and is now 'The Avenue of 100 Celestial Heroes'.
There is a legacy from Euro 2012, yet it is one that nobody could have been expected to foresee.
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