Feature: Poland and Ukraine ‘create history together’
Before I left for Gdansk to volunteer at EURO 2012 I received the advice, to put it in Sol Campbell’s words, to ‘stay home, watch it on TV’.
As a German, people assumed, I would be just as a popular target as other ethnicities due to the darker chapters of 20th century European history.
Luckily I did not listen and as tournament draws to a close I can share only positive experiences.
There have been times at which I, too, was not sure if Poland and Ukraine are fit to host one of the largest sport events in the world.
Fortunately reality as I experience it in Poland could not be more different from the concerns.
Getting an insightful work experience is of course an important factor for me, but the best part of my time as a volunteer is, that I am able to share this experience with people, not only from all over Europe, but also Brasil, South Korea, China and Ghana.
When I claim that Poland and the Ukraine have the power to host a great tournament, that does not mean that I close my eyes to the many problems troubling these countries.
I genuinely feel sorry that some close-minded people gained entrance to the Dutch team’s training, as it has been widely covered by foreign media.
It is however a shame, that positive examples, such as the German open training, during which 11,000 Polish spectators cheered on every single player, including Jerome Boateng, who has a Ghanaian father, seem not to be worth mentioning.
Furthermore it is important to recognise the positive effect events such as the EURO can have on various social issues.
If the tournament had not been awarded to Poland and the Ukraine, no-one in Central Europe would know or care about groups of extremist football spectators or homeless dogs roaming the streets in a seemingly faraway Eastern European country.
Even the plight of Yulia Tymoshenko received a wider coverage as the tournament drew closer. Because of the EURO Poland and Ukraine are in the spotlight and thus are forced to address the issues.
Apart from the major political debates there have been many concerns about operational challenges.
Indeed, by British standards the infrastructure in Poland might not be ideal – for the first week riding the bus was a challenge and there was still major roadwork to be done one week prior to the opening match.
From what I have heard the situation was even worse at some Ukrainian venues.
Furthermore it is reported that fans are put off by high accommodation prices and concerns about safety and indeed there was a significant number of empty seats to be spotted when I watched the first match in Poznan on TV.
Yet in Gdansk I met fans from places such as the Canary Islands and Canada, who created a EURO- worthy atmosphere.
Like me they were able to overlook the imperfections and recognise that our Polish hosts make up for these through their genuine openness and hospitality.
They are always trying their best to overcome language-barriers and other confusions.
It takes some effort, but especially in a country that yet has to prove worthy of a big tournament people have the necessary energy and dedication to make it happen.
Poland might not be the ideal host in many aspects, but they fulfil the foremost qualities: they’re mad about football!