Party over for people of Poland

Party over for people of Poland

Published Jun. 19, 2012 5:25 p.m. ET

The window displays are up, but all the merchandise is now 50% off. The signs in front of the bars and cafes that touted the Euros are gone. The Fan Fest in the heart of downtown had no live music today, sitting as empty as a schoolyard on Christmas Day.

The Euros are not over. For most of the continent, this is the part of the show where the stakes are higher and business gets done. In fact, there still are two more games here in the capital city. But unless you’re peering up at the ads blanketing the buildings, you might not know it. Poland is out, and thus the Euros are over.

If this seems ungracious to our fine hosts – who have been nothing short of spectacular – consider that they are a bit fed up with the whole thing. There was grumbling about the cost of this tournament — some $20 billion and counting — before we kicked off, and now, there seems to be some outright resentment. I cannot blame them.

Monday night, a group of construction workers picketed the Croatia-Spain game in Gdansk. Why? They say they are owed $14.5 million from one of the many companies hired to build the infrastructure demanded by UEFA for this tournament. Close to 100 firms have declared bankruptcy since the work was completed. Thousands of workers and small contractors have been stuck holding the bill.


Poland needed some of this work to be done: they are getting a new subway line in Warsaw that had been in the works for almost 15 years, and they have made needed improvements to roads and trams. Fair enough.

But Poland also had to build or develop four massive stadiums with uncertain future uses. In Gdansk, the new PGE Arena cost an eye-popping $250m. The National Stadium here in Warsaw cost even more -- an estimated $650m. These stadiums seat enormous numbers of people — between 40-50,000 in a country where your average soccer team draws closer to 8,000 fans a game. It’s hard not to see these things as the white elephants of the future.

And what have the Poles gained for this largesse? Grief.

A major reason for hosting this tournament was for tourism and business development. I can’t tell you sternly or strongly enough that the country is a fabulous place to visit. However, no matter how loudly I praise our hosts, my applause seems drowned out by a non-stop drumbeat of negativity.

The hooligan arrests prior to the Poland-Russia game have unfortunately fixed an image in most Westerners’ eyes that is categorically untrue, because, well, the media loves a frenzy. Every day we hear another story about racism, fighting, taunting or some other boorish behavior that is now inextricably linked with the hosts. The fact that the latest uproar involved not Poles but German fans will be lost in the din. That’s a bitter irony.

No wonder many in the city are just getting on with things. They are going to see any of the many music and art festivals in this wonderful city by the river, and putting football in the rear-view mirror. After all, Poland couldn’t win on the field -- and if the media has its way, it won’t be able to win off it, either. No wonder this oft-fought-over city is heaving a heavy sigh and moving on.