Posts Tagged ‘Football’

Hosting UEFA 2012

Hosting UEFA 2012

May 13, 2010  |  Comments Off

Having had the chance to visit both the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv and the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv (variously known as Red Stadium, Stalin Republican Stadium, Nikita Khrushchev Stadium) I have to say they are like chalk and cheese.

The Kharkiv stadium opened in December 2009 and looks ready to host the games. Don’t get me wrong there are significant problems still to tackle; regeneration of the surrounding area, completing the transport infrastructure (though the new airport terminal at Kharkiv looks to be progressing) and the provision of adequate accommodation. In Among the Ukrainians I comment about the apprehension people feel about a repetition of Eurovision 2005 which was hosted by Kyiv. On that occasion, visiting guests had to live in tarpaulin tents because of the lack of hotel rooms. It could still happen in Kharkiv, but the preparations are well underway.

The outlook for Kyiv, on the other hand, is far less rosy. The Olympic Stadium is way behind: major structural work is not finished and concrete is still being poured. Of course, a contingency was built into the development plan and, now that winter is over, work could speed up. But I hear, that as a precaution, there’s a contingency plan to move to a German stadium for the final.

I hope not. The UEFA 2010 slogan is “Creating History Together” and that’s not the sort of history that Ukraine needs. Come on Ukraine!

A Medal at Any Cost

A Medal at Any Cost

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making of the Chapter:

Living in a society, such as the Soviet Union, where one’s role and behaviour was so tightly conscribed and where role models were largely determined by the authorities, meant that sport assumed a special place in people’s hearts.  People could choose to do sport or to watch, and who they chose as role models was beyond the reach of the authorities.

In A Medal at any Cost I spend a train journey in the company of a group of athletes (and the Provodnitsa who checks the tickets, tends the samovar, and generally keeps passengers in order).  We reflect on the importance of Ukraine to the Soviet Union’s Olympic results, relive great Olympic moments, disagree about the extent of cheating during the Games, and offer a cautious outlook on the European Cup 2012 (to be jointly hosted by Ukraine and Poland).

Excerpt:

 “Bubka always chose a heavier and stiffer pole than his competitors, and his success lay in his unusually strong arms, fantastic acceleration over twenty-two strides, and technique for planting the pole. In a straight race he could run the hundred metres in 10.45 seconds; he was a natural athlete.”

He paused, recounting his feelings from twenty years earlier. “The wining jump was over in a few seconds. I held my breath as Bubka planted the pole beneath the bar, forcing it to bend. Pole and vaulter momentarily stopped before the pole whip-lashed him skyward and he twisted over the bar, set at 5.90 metres. He had won the gold medal and the stadium and households throughout the Soviet Union erupted! Soon afterwards he became the first man to clear six metres — for decades considered impossible — and is the only man to vault 6.14 outdoors.” He breathed deeply, contentedly, as if it were his own achievement.

Pole vault, with its practical origin as a means of crossing rivers, was the sort of sport the authorities wanted people to appreciate. It required speed, strength, precision, and intellect. In contrast to the javelin, discus, hammer, shot put, and so on, which are highly regulated, the pole can be of any length or material of the athlete’s choosing. The limits are set by what one can lift and its flexibility and strength. If it snaps (the athlete’s nightmare), there’s a good chance he’ll end up looking like a piece of shashlik on a skewer.

At The Coal Face

At The Coal Face

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

If there was ever a good time to work in a coal mine in Ukraine it was probably in the 1960s and 1970s. Coal miners were among the highest paid workers and had good benefits including priority allocation of an apartment and early retirement. There were accidents, of course, but there was camaraderie between the men that is lacking today. In At the Coal Face I socialise with a group of miners in a bar in the city of Donetsk. (Given the amount of alcohol I consumed, the chapter would never have been written without my trusty voice recorder.) I uncover the unusual provenance of the city, the rise of heroes (and heroines) of labour, the decline to the “year without meat,” pit disasters and the emergence of a new group of pit owners. Football and oil exploration make guest appearances.

Excerpt:

I entered the bar a few minutes early and was greeted by broken linoleum, nicotine-stained wallpaper, and glaucous windows. It was not my choice of establishment, but a typical working class bar that served vodka and beer from six in the morning. I had agreed to meet three miners, a father and son, and a retired miner who was now part of the editorial team for a miners’ newspaper. Benches lined the perimeter of the room, but there were no chairs at the metal tables, which stood chest high and were supported by welded piping. I ordered a beer at the bar and took it to a free table.

The barman would have been hung drawn and quartered in any miners’ club back home for serving the short measure that he gave me, only slightly more than two-thirds of a glass. But in Ukraine I’d grown to accept it and I certainly wasn’t going to argue. Ukrainian friends smile and joke when I complain about beer measures; they just don’t seem to understand the gravity of the matter.

As I waited for the miners to arrive and the froth to settle, I couldn’t help but contemplate that this town was once the industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. It provided the coal to smelt the iron ore, and to produce the metal that was used in the tanks, missiles, aircraft, ships, and submarines that threatened the West for so many years. Yet, this town was built by a stocky, and by all accounts, amiable Welshman called John Hughes.