One is shaped like a giant armadillo, another like a lit-up crushed accordion, a third like a massive amber crystal and the fourth like a colossal crown. The four state-of-the-art football stadiums in Poland are ready to receive the one million fans who've booked tickets to the 15 matches scheduled there.
However, the colour orange will be conspicuously absent in the stands during the first round of the European Championship finals. Holland are to play their three group-stage matches in the co-host country, Ukraine - much to the disappointment of the Polish organisers.
Zaborowksi is the Polish Tourist Organisation’s Euro 2012 representative. He’s not the only Pole who will sorely miss Holland’s playing style and its many flamboyant fans, famed for creating a party atmosphere at every major football event.
“I’m a fan of Poland but I like good football and that’s what Holland stands for. Many Dutch players are very popular in Poland, from Marco van Basten to Arjen Robben to Johan Cruyff, your legend. Cruyff and his fantastic results are not only famous in Spain, but also in Poland.”
Krakow base camps and fan zones
There’s one consolation though. As many as 13 out of the 16 Euro 2012 finalists are putting up their base camps in Poland, including Holland.
Krakow will accommodate a small contingent of Dutch fans during the group stages of the tournament. They’ll be joined by massive groups of supporters from Italy, the UK and Denmark, despite the fact that the Danish team will be based in the coastal resort of Kolobrzeg. “In all, between 200,000 and half a million fans are expected to flock to Krakow,” estimates Zaborowski.
“Three teams have chosen the city as their base camp and we have also Danish fans who’ll have their special centre in Krakow. Of course, I expect that a lot of tourists will also come to this beautiful city, especially now that three teams will be based there.”
The president’s adviser regrets that the result of the draw greatly reduced the chances of promoting his country as an upcoming tourist destination among the Dutch. He explains that Poland is keen to shed its image as a country of farmers, preferring to present itself as a modern nation offering a wealth of leisure activities, culture and good value for money to travelers from Western Europe.
Tourism is developing fast in Poland and the number of Dutch visitors rose to 390,000 last year, the second-highest after Germany and the UK. The European Championship is seen as a catalyst for long-term growth in the Polish tourist industry (analysts expect 1.2 billion euros in tourist revenue in 2020) and the economy at large (analysts expect a 6.6 billion-euro GDP growth spike from 2008 to 2020).
Like many Dutch fans, Zaborowski expects the Oranje to survive their “Group of Death” and move on to the knock-out stages, with Gdansk or Warsaw as venues.
Piotr Golos of the Polish Football Association stresses that the recent storm over Geert Wilders’ anti-Eastern European website has passed. It has left no lasting damage to the long and strong bond between the two nations.
“I do believe that Dutch people are perfectly able to see for themselves that Polish people work hard and find out what kind of people they are. Polish people love the Dutch and they will support the Dutch team, so I don’t think the Wilders website is much of an issue anymore. So we invite you to Poland and you can be sure of a very warm welcome.”