Soccer Safety Worries

With less than a year to go, Europe’s soccer authority has admitted it has safety concerns about the new venues to be used for the 2012 championship in Poland and Ukraine.

UEFA head of stadiums and security Marc Timmer said his association is closely monitoring ongoing construction “to make sure that all minimum standards are met.”

“At every venue, with no exception, there have been made many changes on our request,” he said. “Of course, this is still a major concern. Until a venue is really commissioned, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Earlier this year, UEFA ruled that Poland’s Miejski stadium in Poznan, which will host three matches at Euro 2012, could not safely operate at more than half of its seating capacity.

The 43,000-capacity stadium reopened after reconstruction in September 2010 but UEFA found faults such as blocked exits and seat numbering mistakes.

“We had numerous meetings in both countries where we were addressing our concerns,” Timmer explained. “Unfortunately, in Poznan they did not do it correctly so we had to tell them after the stadium opened. It was a mess. We’ve put a lot of pressure on them to improve the situation.”

Six of eight venues for the June 8 to July 1 event have been newly built – in Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw in Poland and at Kiev, Donetsk and Lviv in Ukraine.

Like Poznan, the stadium in Kharkiv, Ukraine, has also been rebuilt.

Timmer says that local authorities were often “signing off” on a stadium without actually inspecting it.

Jo Vanhecke, vice-chairman of the Council of Europe Standing Committee on Spectator Violence, says local authorities often close their eyes to safety and security issues.

“Too many people sign safety licenses for stadiums without even having been there,” he said. “They think: ‘If I don’t sign this, maybe my club won’t be able to participate in the Champions League or the Europa League.’ They don’t want negative publicity.

“They are not even calculating evacuation routes. All safety rules are known and there are good practices throughout Europe. There are rules everyone has to respect. If you don’t, you have a problem.”

Timmer says the championship provides “a huge opportunity” for construction businesses and architects.

“Everybody jumps on these projects and tries to get a piece out of the cake. That’s not always a guarantee for quality,” he said.

There have been concerns over venues since it was first decided to award the 2012 championship to Poland and Ukraine, largely doubts as to whether construction would be completed in time.

Two months ago it was widely reported that the construction of at least two of the stadiums hosting the championship isn’t going according to plan.

Poland was to mark the gala opening of Gdansk’s new PGE Arena with an exhibition match against France June 9, but the building wasn’t ready and the match was switched to Warsaw.

A friendly match between Ukraine and Austria scheduled for the new 30,000-capacity stadium in Lviv Nov. 15 has also been moved.