Football: Euro 2012 a long game for Polish economy
(WARSAW) - Is Warsaw the new Barcelona? While the idea might seem outlandish, the Catalan metropolis is very much the model as Poland seeks to reap gains from Euro 2012.
Looking beyond fans' spending during the three-week footballing showcase -- held along with neighbouring Ukraine -- Poland aims to project an image at odds with enduring cliches rooted in the communist era.
The "Barcelona Effect" is economist-speak for the long-term benefits of hosting a sporting event, which offers a window on the world.
In Barcelona's case, it was the 1992 Olympic Games, preparations for which saw a massive refurbishment drive and major infrastructure projects.
While the city was already on the tourist circuit, the number of visitors climbed before the games and continued to do so as it became a magnet.
"We've got good, concrete examples and templates that can be transposed onto Polish turf, making the European championship a catalyst for change in Poland," said Jacek Bochenek, head of the Euro 2012 project at auditors Deloitte.
Euro 2012 marks the first edition of Europe's top international tournament behind the former Iron Curtain, a region not necessarily a first choice for would-be tourists.
From 700,000 to one million fans are expected in Poland during Euro 2012, which kicks off on June 8, and are tipped to spend 844 million zloty (193 million euros, $246 million).
But their presence could have a long-term impact if they enjoy themselves and spread the word, helping along with an intensive PR campaign to pull Poland up the ladder of global perception rankings.
"They will be our ambassadors," said the Polish Tourist Organisation's chief Rafal Szmytke.
"We're not going to get a second chance like this," underlined its promotional campaign head Piotr Tatara.
Experts estimate that the number of foreign tourists, currently 10 million a year, could jump to 13.6 million in 2013 and continue to rise by 500,000 a year up to 2020, meaning climbing revenues.
"The greatest investment of Euro 2012 isn't the wonderful stadiums, the great airport terminals, the roads and railway stations," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
"It's investment in the brand and reputation of Poland among the hundreds of millions who will watch it on TV and the hundreds of thousands who'll come here and won't judge us only on sport."
That message is echoed by European football's governing body UEFA, whose Euro watchdog Martin Kallen travels to Poland regularly.
"I think this is maybe the most important thing, it's really this window to show what they did in the last 15-20 years, which is remarkable," he told AFP.
After the dying days of communist rule, which still evoke an image of empty shelves and queues, Poland introduced sharp reforms following the regime's 1989 fall.
It has gradually clawed its way up from the low point of that era, and during the ongoing economic crisis has been the only member of the 27-nation European Union to post growth.
There are suggestions that Euro 2012 may have been a stimulus programme in all but name, notably because of the huge infrastructure projects.
The Poles' Euro-linked investment has hit 95 billion zloty (22.8 billion euros, $29.9 billion).
Ninety percent is public money, with around half of that from the EU, as 2004 entrant Poland can tap funds earmarked to help poorer members catch up.
Critics have questioned why it took a sports event to speed up the process but supporters turn that argument around.
"It's like a long train, when you put this engine in front and then what you have is a clear target," said Kallen.
"Here you have a common goal for the country where the Euro is and what you see is that the Euro is really a stimulant for the economy and for change," he added.
Officials stress that most projects are not sport-related -- only four percent of spending is on Poland's four Euro 2012 host stadiums -- and that the bulk is for transport, which needed a massive overhaul to boost productivity and spur the economy.
"The majority of very important investment projects were accelerated by Euro 2012, by three to five years," said Mikolaj Piotrowski, spokesman for organising arm PL.2012.
"This isn't a story about four stadiums. It's a story about country modernisation," he told AFP.
Productivity gains should add 2.0 percent to Poland's gross domestic product up to 2020, said Deloitte's Bochenek.
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