Football Euro 2012 legacy: Polish growth

Nearly five months after the final whistle at the European football championships, economists and officials say that Poland is reaping the benefits.

The tournament catalysed a massive shake-up of Poland's ramshackle infrastructure and transformed its image on the global stage, providing potential for long-term gains, they say.

"We think the 'Poland Effect' is something more than the 'Barcelona Effect'," said Marcin Herra, boss of PL.2012, the state body that oversaw preparations for everything but the action on the pitch -- where the Polish team failed to shine.

"Barcelona was essentially about boosting tourism, but in Poland it's been about the economy overall, the infrastructure, and know-how," Herra added.

The "Barcelona Effect" is economists' jargon for the long-term positive economic effect of hosting a major sporting event, in reference to the 1992 Olympics.

The Spanish city was already established on the tourist circuit, but the number of visitors began climbing ahead of the Olympics and continued to do so as it became a magnet for trendy Europeans.

In contrast, Euro 2012 was held in largely uncharted territory.

Hosted along with Poland's neighbour Ukraine from June 8 to July 1, it marked the first excursion of the quadrennial tournament behind the former Iron Curtain.

Defying the sceptics, the hosts strove to break with enduring cliches rooted in the communist era and prove their readiness.

The tournament went on to win plaudits from the fans and European football's governing body UEFA -- which picks the hosts and owns the rights.

"I think the long-term impact of Euro 2012 is the most important part of the success story," said Jakub Borowski, chief economist at Kredyt Bank and a lecturer at Warsaw School of Economics.

Borowski was lead author for a 2010 survey on Euro 2012's potential impact, now freshly updated.

According to the London-based Brand Finance Institute, Euro 2012 helped lift Poland up its 100-nation ranking, from 24th to 20th.

In financial terms, the value of the brand "Poland" jumped 75 percent.

"The impact on our image is going to be long-term," said Joanna Mucha, Poland's sport and tourism minister.

The 677,000 fans who flocked to Poland may be worth their weight in gold -- and not only because they spent 1.1 billion zloty (266 million euros, $341 million), or 33 percent more than forecast.

A mighty 92 percent of foreign supporters surveyed by the PBS Institute in Poland at the end of Euro 2012 said they would recommend it for a holiday, and 80 percent aimed to come back.

In 2011, three million foreign tourists visited this nation of 38 million. Experts forecast that number will grow by 766,000 a year through to 2020.

But three-quarters of Poland's gains are expected to be the result of completed infrastructure projects owing to pressure to be ready for Euro 2012.

Poland's tournament-linked investment hit 94 billion zloty, with 90 percent of that public money, and only four percent going on stadiums.

Around half came from European Union "cohesion funding", aimed at boosting the single market by helping poorer members such as 2004 entrant Poland catch up with the 27-nation bloc's wealthier states.

"If we hadn't had Euro 2012, we would have improved our infrastructure, but it would have taken longer. Between two and three years longer," Borowski told AFP.

Poland's road network has been ill-equipped for the demands of a capitalist economy growing every year since its communist regime crumbled in 1989.

Despite grumbling about living on a vast building site, Poles feel the benefits when they hit the road, or ride brand-new trams and buses.

"Because we have a better quality of infrastructure earlier, we receive an earlier gain in terms of higher productivity in the whole economy. It's about front-loading productivity," explained Borowski.

"For economists, this is the most important part of Euro 2012. This economy can produce more than it would produce in a scenario without the Euro (tournament)," he added.

Poland is the only EU member to have kept growing throughout the bloc's economic crisis.

"Definitely the Polish economy grew at a faster rate thanks to the Euro, but what matters are the long-term gains, this long-term incremental effect," said Borowski.

His research shows that stronger productivity should add 1.3 percentage points to Poland's gross domestic product by 2020, worth an extra 21.3 billion zloty.

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