Polish FA chief apologises for hooliganism

WARSAW - Polish FA chief and former striker Grzegorz Lato apologised on Wednesday for a spate of hooliganism among fans and said he was sure measures now in place would prevent trouble when they co-host Euro 2012.

Polish fans were detained in Lithuania in March after throwing bottles, flares and benches at police before and during a friendly match which Poland lost 2-0.

Last month, police in the Polish town of Bydgoszcz deployed water cannon against fans who invaded the pitch and damaged the stands after Legia Warsaw won the Polish Cup 5-4 on penalties against Lech Poznan.

"We are shocked by the hooliganism. I never experienced anything like that when I was playing. It was something that never happened," Lato, top scorer at the 1974 World Cup with seven goals, told a news conference.

"I would like to apologise to our Lithuanian friends," he said during a visit to Warsaw by top UEFA officials one year ahead of the tournament which Poland will co-host with Ukraine.

"We have very good fans. Please remember what they were like in Germany (during the 2006 World Cup) and in Austria and Switzerland (during Euro 2008) when they were great in spite of our results.

"I hope that next year in Poland they will be like the 12th player on the pitch," added Lato, who played in the 1974, 1978 and 1982 World Cups and has headed the Polish FA since 2008.

TOUGH MEASURES

Football hooliganism has become an important political issue ahead of October's national elections in Poland and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a keen football fan, has signalled a tougher stance against the troublemakers.

Polish authorities last month ordered several teams to play behind closed doors as part of the new crackdown.

"There are measures in place to stop this from happening again. I am sure that at Euro 2012 Polish people will be sitting next to English fans or Greeks or Spaniards and there will be no problem with hooliganism," Lato said.

UEFA's General Secretary Gianni Infantino echoed Lato's optimism.

"As far as hooliganism and crowd trouble are concerned, England had this problem for many years and have more or less eradicated it through the work of the government and the authorities," he said.

"I am convinced that the same thing will be happening in Poland to stop this being a problem at Euro 2012."

Infantino, who also visited Ukraine earlier this week, played down delays in the building of Polish stadiums and roads.

"There have been a few hiccups along the way. A few delays, however, in the development do not alter our faith in this project," he told reporters.

"We believe Poland will be ready, Ukraine will be ready, we have absolutely no doubts about that."

Asked about delays in completing a stretch of motorway outside Warsaw that will help link the Polish capital to Germany, Infantino said: "That is not a problem. Poland is already connected to the rest of Europe, it is part of Europe."

Prime Minister Tusk said the government had agreed to delay the opening of the National Stadium in Warsaw by four months until Nov. 30 without levying a large penalty on its builders, led by Alpine Bau, a unit of Spain's FCC.

But, speaking at the stadium overlooking the Vistula river, he added: "The pace at which Poland is preparing is impressive."

On Tuesday, Poland's top audit agency said delays in building roads and stadiums threatened its ability to successfully host Euro 2012.


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