Two major European events are occurring this year outside the continent’s traditional confines. Ukraine is anticipating the biggest influx of tourists since it separated from the Soviet Union 20 years ago for the upcoming Euro Cup games and Azerbaijan will greet hordes eager for Eurovision spectacle.
Sadly, the efforts to prepare for those events have hardly observed the traditional European standards of transparency and professionalism.
We’ll tackle Azerbaijan tomorrow on the eve of the Eurovision final. Today, let’s focus on Ukraine. The country is curently suffering from a bad public image what with its ailing former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko behind bars and the death of a rape victim who fought corruption, is taking security and crowd control seriously. Officials are deploying surface to air missiles and will have fighter jets on standby as an anti-terrorism measure. No such show of force has been announced against corruption and prostitution?
Ukrainian journalist Mark Rachkevych writes that the events leading up to the soccer tournament
“Range from corruption running amuck, rollbacks of basic freedoms, persecution and imprisonment of the nation’s opposition, and various human and animal rights abuses, all of which have nothing to do with football, and everything to do with Ukraine’s seemingly frustrating attempt to shed the last vestiges of its Soviet past.”
He writes that no one has any idea just how much public money has been spent, but kickbacks to officials for construction projects range from 40 to 60 percent. A parliamentarian has noted that the budget has increased from at least US$ 1 billion to US$10 billion since Ukraine won the bid to co-host with Poland.
The government of President Viktor Yanukovich canceled the public tender process when he came to power in February 2010.
“Journalists discovered that 10 wooden benches for a metro station in Kharkiv cost taxpayers $80,000. Another investigation revealed that Donetsk had purchased 10 portable toilets for $500,000 or $50,000 a toilet. Some $18.5 million was spent to build a helicopter aerodrome complete with at least six helipads 150 kilometers south of Kyiv. Moreover, the government started building three ice rinks under the Euro 2012 program altogether worth $11.5 million.”
And, Rachkevych continues, most of the companies that received tenders are from Yanukovich’s home city of Donetsk.
“One company, Altkom received some $1 billion in government orders in 2011-2012. It worked on the Lviv airport, and built roads and the new Lviv Arena, for example. Another company is AK Engineering, the general contractor for Kyiv’s reconstructed Olympic stadium which cost the public $600 million – $160 million more than Munich’s Allianz Arena that has a similar capacity size. There’s currently a criminal case open against the company’s former director.”
Fans arriving in Ukraine this summer to cheer their favorite teams may be unaware of all the rules shirked leading to the big match, but it will be a shame if Ukraine’s voters do not hold their leaders accountable for missing an opportunity to provide jobs and income to more of the country’s citizens instead of just the top cadre of politicians and their cronies.
Prostitution, always the bedfellow of international sporting events, will be a tremendous problem in Ukraine, writes Reuters. This could pose serious dangers to the millions of tourists, as Ukraine has the fastest growing rate of HIV/AIDS in the world and the highest rate of infection—1 percent of the total population—in the world. Estimates vary, but as many as one in four or one in five sex workers in Ukraine tests positive for the disease.
Vasyl Poshtak, head of the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking arm, says authorities will do their best to stop sex solicitation, “but this is like tilting at windmills.”
Whatever that means.
Good thing Ukraine has a commission on public morality. Its head Vasyl Kostytsky warns foreigners to stay away from the sex industry:
“Prostitution is dangerous for foreigners. Their property can get stolen. They can get AIDS.”
And who knows if the police will help if a bloke loses his Raybans or his bill of clean health? Amnesty International warned travelers last week to be wary of Ukraine’s racist, corrupt police during the month of matches.
Hooligans, Prostitutes, and Corruption, Oh My. Ukraine may get to host a major event in European football, but its transparency and standards have been anything but European.