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Italy Favored to Host European Soccer Tourney in 2012 (Update1)

By Balazs Penz and Marta Waldoch

April 17 (Bloomberg) -- Soccer officials will choose between bad roads in the former Soviet Bloc and unruly fans in Italy when they decide the site of the 2012 European Championship.

UEFA, the sport's governing body for Europe, will consider three bids tomorrow. Hungary and Croatia are offering one joint plan and Poland and Ukraine another. Italy, where fans killed a police officer in February, is the bookmakers' choice at 1-3.

The Italians hosted the 1990 World Cup and the 1968 and 1980 European Championships. The only major soccer event ever held in eastern Europe was the 1976 European Championship in Yugoslavia.

Hosting the competition ``would definitely turn our football around, turn the public eye toward the sport,'' Peter Serenyi, a spokesman for Hungarian soccer's governing body, said in a telephone interview on his way to board a flight for the UEFA meeting in Cardiff, Wales.

William Hill Plc, the London-based bookmaker, gives the bid from Hungary and Croatia a 3-1 chance, meaning a successful $1 wager would yield a $3 profit. Poland and Ukraine are 10-1 shots. The company hasn't been taking bets on the outcome, it said.

Should Hungary upset the odds, it will spend about $1 billion on new stadiums and transportation projects -- 1 percent of what is eastern Europe's slowest-growing economy. Poland would spend at least half that, equal to 0.2 percent of economic output.

The favorites don't always win: London was picked over Paris for the 2012 Olympic Games, and Portugal beat neighbor Spain for the 2004 European Championship, triggering spending of more than $1 billion on new stadiums.

Political Pressure

Eastern European politicians and athletes are lobbying for their countries' proposals. Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, helped by record-breaking pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka, is taking time off from a parliamentary crisis at home to talk with UEFA executives. Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany is teaming with Croatia's Davor Suker, the 1998 World Cup's top striker, to make final presentations for their countries.

Italy, whose national team won the World Cup last year in Germany, declined to say how much needs to be spent to improve stadiums in soccer hotbeds such as Milan and Turin.

Countries like Hungary and Poland risk being left with unwanted stadiums because local clubs may struggle to fill them after the stars of the game have left.

Ukraine has the highest league attendances of the four eastern European bidders this year, at 8,892 per match, and Hungary has the lowest, at 2,354. Those figures compare with 18,094 in Italy, where even second-division SSC Napoli draws 27,000 per game.

``Clearly, none of the cities outside Budapest needs stadiums seating 40,000 people,'' Serenyi, Hungary's spokesman, said. ``The UEFA doesn't accept temporary solutions, but we can build something that can be scaled back later.''


Clubs are also struggling in pan-European competitions and facilities have fallen into disrepair since governments pulled the plug on finances with the end of communism.

Ferencvaros, Hungary's most successful soccer club, is now languishing in the second tier after coming close to being declared bankrupt last year. Gornik Zabrze, which has a record 14 Polish championships, hasn't finished on top since 1988.

The standard of roads and hotels is also a concern. Of the 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) from Gdansk in Poland to Donetsk in Ukraine, only 23 kilometers is a highway, based on Michelin's guide. Hungary's main concern is the lack of quality hotels in smaller cities, Serenyi said.

``Our infrastructure now seems to be a museum for Western clubs that come to play here,'' said Jan Tomaszewski, the former Polish international goalkeeper.

`Nice Words'

Bid organizers are counting on pledges by soccer officials, including Michel Platini, who in January was elected to lead UEFA, to spread the wealth created by high-profile tournaments such as the Champions League and the English Premiership.

``Now we'll see how much the nice words are worth,'' Tamas Gyarfas, head of the Hungarian organizing committee, said in an interview. Hungary had bid three times before.

Soccer in Poland has been hurt by a match-fixing scandal that's led to almost 80 arrests, though none of the countries has been as badly affected by off-field events as Italy.

The national team won the sport's highest honor last year while some of the world's most famous clubs, including AC Milan and Juventus, were embroiled in a rigging scandal.

Since then, Italian fans have made headlines by fighting with police. Italy's bid organizers say being selected to host the 2012 championship might help the sport in the country.

The tournament is ``a great opportunity and a great challenge that we all feel passionately about,'' Luca Pancalli, the committee's chief, said on the Italian soccer federation's Web site. ``This candidacy has come about at a difficult time for Italian soccer.''

UEFA will announce the decision by about noon in Cardiff tomorrow, a spokesman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Balazs Penz in Budapest at bpenz@bloomberg.net . Marta Waldoch in Warsaw on mwaldoch@bloomberg.net

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As long as they can put together a decent bid it is time to give Eastern Europe a major tournament. The Berlin Wall fell close to 20 years ago and it is time to give the east a major event. Even in the 2006 World Cup which Germany won by touting its reunification only one of the twelve cities that were played in was in the former East Germany. This was a token gesture to try and gloss over the fact that the German bid had been a lie and that the World Cup was in reality being awarded to West Germany for the second time. Italy has held the Euro twice already and also the World Cup twice. If decent bids are put together by either of the eastern joint bids, it would be a disgrace to chose Italy or any other western European country for that matter.

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