Euro 2012 finals will be a test of Ukraine's European ambition, says Vitali Klitschko
Boxing champion is also a politician in his homeland, and has big hopes for next year
He admits there were concerns but Ukrainians rallied to meet tournament commitments
The 40-year-old insists the infrastructure is ready for June 8-July 1 football event
Ukrainian boxing star Vitali Klitschko hopes that co-hosting football’s European Championship next year will help his country’s bid to become part of the European Union.
The former Soviet republic has moved towards membership in recent years, and is now covered by the European Neighborhood Policy.
The tournament will be held in Poland and Ukraine from June 8-July 1, and the countries are on track to be ready despite early fears over a lack of infrastructure and slow construction work.
“It’s our chance to show the whole world we are a European country, with our mentality, with our history,” Klitschko, who is also a politician in his homeland, told CNN ahead of Friday’s draw for the 16 competing nations.
“With sport we are also a European country. We have to make a lot of change in Ukraine, (such as) life standards, and we will not automatically be a European country. The whole country has to support this very important event in our history.”
Both nations will provide four venues, with the final to be played in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and other matches in Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv.
Klitschko, the leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, admitted that there were concerns about whether they would be ready in time.
“There were big discussions in Ukrainian society, everyone was talking about it. Right now we don’t doubt. Everything will be ready,” the 40-year-old said.
“The infrastructure for stadiums and hotels, everything is already done, and we wait for guests from all around the world to say, ‘Welcome to Ukraine.’ “
Klitschko, a heavyweight champion like his younger brother Wladimir, said that Ukrainians had rallied in support of the government to make sure the commitment to stage the event would be fulfilled.
“All society, not just the government, is responsible for Euro 2012, (there was) a very big volunteer movement. Everyone wants to support the championship,” he said.
“There is a famous saying that sport helps to change the world, and Euro 2012 will help to change Ukraine.”
Klitschko’s boxing career is nearing an end, but he holds out hope that British fighter David Haye will end his short retirement and agree to a bout next year.
Haye lost his WBA title in July to Wladimir, who also holds the WBO, IBF and IBO belts – while Vitali is WBC champion.
“I hope David Haye signs a contract. He has different ideas – one day he is retired, one day he is back from retirement,” said Vitali, who is known as “Doctor Iron Fist.”
“I hope to fight against David Haye. I am very old. I hope he doesn’t make excuses after the fight like last time. Next week we will have new information.”