Thu, May 15, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Austria, Switzerland complete Euro 2008 preparations

ALPINE EXTRAVAGANZA The last time either of the co-hosts staged a major soccer tournament was more than half a century ago, when the World Cup came to Switzerland

AFP , VIENNA

Austria and Switzerland are ready to host the European soccer championship from June 7 to June 29, having completed their preparations on schedule, one month before the kick-off.

“The host cities have never been ready so early,” said the president of the Euro 2008 organizing committee, Martin Kallen, who had led the committee that organized the European championship in Portugal in 2004.

The last major construction projects have now been completed in Vienna.

The Austrian capital’s Ernst Happel stadium, which will host the final, has been entirely modernized and refitted to seat 51,000 people, and builders finished putting up the 460-seat media center last month.

The city’s U2 underground line has meanwhile been extended to the stadium, facilitating access by public transportation and halving the time needed to travel from the city center. The extension, which cost 890 million euros (US$1,373 million), was inaugurated on Saturday.

Stadiums in the seven other host cities have been ready for months, including those in Zurich, Switzerland and Klagenfurt in southern Austria, which suffered some construction and renovation delays.

visiting hordes

As renowned tourist destinations, the co-hosts are well prepared to welcome hordes of visitors next month and can rely on their existing hotel infrastructure.

Austria expects an additional 1.1 million overnight stays during the championship, while Switzerland is counting on 700,000.

Austrian and Swiss Rail are also planning to run respectively 2,000 and 2,500 special trains during the championship to ensure that fans reach their chosen destinations in time. Those with match tickets will travel for free.

The co-hosts are each expecting some two million visitors and estimate the championship could bring in several hundreds of millions of euros in profit.

Beyond the stadia, the eight host cities — Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, and the Austrian cities of Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna — are planning large public-viewing zones, with live games shown on giant screens, music performances and foodstalls.

Vienna will be able to accommodate some 120,000 fans in several such zones, the largest being a 1.2km stretch of the Ring boulevard, transformed into a large Fan Mile similar to the one in Berlin during the 2006 World Cup, with nine giant screens.

Euro fever

The two host countries were slow to show their enthusiasm for the upcoming tournament but Euro fever has now caught up with them and preparations are in full swing for a series of side events.

These are due to include concerts, exhibits and parties to keep fans entertained during the championship.

Austria, which has never hosted a sporting event of this scale though they have hosted two Winter Olympics, and Switzerland, which last organized the World Cup in 1954, have also placed a special emphasis on security, as they prepare to receive crowds of fans from all around Europe.

Austria’s 27,000 police officers — all leave has been canceled for the duration of the tournament — have been called up alongside 3,000 army officers, with a similar number providing security in Switzerland.

The co-hosts will also receive outside help with over 2,500 police officers from participating countries lending a hand.

These will include a contribution of 1,700 officers from Germany and France plans to send 750.

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