Hosting the Euro 2012 Championships this summer will give (Poland and) Ukraine an opportunity to present themselves to a global audience as progressive, inclusive and socially responsible countries; which are exactly the values promoted by UEFA.
Events of this nature bring major benefits to the host countries.
The investment in infrastructure tends to be significant. Hundreds of millions of pounds have already been spent to build new stadia, roads and rail links, giving an immediate boost to employment and leaving a lasting physical legacy for the country.
It is supposed to send a message of hope.
But recent television documentaries have highlighted the darker side of Ukraine, revealing the utter sham that is just about to unfold in front of our eyes.
Marcel Theroux’s report exposed the desperate poverty and abandonment of Ukrainian Street kids who live underground down manholes, in tunnels, sewers and drains; whilst Chris Rogers’ report highlighted the extreme racial hatred and violence that is visible around the country’s stadia.
A global television audience will be treated to the glitz and glamour of one of the world’s premium sporting events. All of this will take place above the ground, with little indication of the hunger and hopelessness beneath it.
No expense will be spared as UEFA and the host countries attempt to put on a memorable spectacle and cement their reputation as upholders of social values and moral standards. Every effort will be made to keep the focus away from the racial hatred and organised violence among the local supporters.
But when the values promoted by UEFA are completely incompatible with a country’s culture of corruption, social neglect and racial hatred, the privilege of hosting the tournament should never have been granted in the first place.
It is impossible to take the message of hope seriously.
Perhaps it would have been different if specific social and cultural objectives had been agreed well in advance, achieving which would have justified the award. It would have been well earned.
But the type of culture witnessed in these documentaries is a culture that is not going to change, just because a bunch of swanky millionaires turn up for a few weeks, espousing values that many of them struggle to uphold themselves. It is a walking contradiction.
It is easy to sit here and criticise. It is easy to take the high moral ground.
But the sad thing is, when the tournament is finished, the rest of the world won’t think twice about the horrendous poverty and depravation that will continue to blight the lives of the street children and the many broken families throughout the country.
We will forget about the country’s corrupt officials; we will forget all about the extreme right wing attitudes of the country’s organised gangs; we will forget about the violence and racial hatred destroying the country’s towns and cities.
And we will turn our attention to the next big sporting extravaganza, the Olympic Games…