"I have no doubt UEFA EURO 2012 will be a great success." This was the forecast of Ukrainian sporting great Serhiy Bubka, the former Olympic gold medal winning pole-vaulter, speaking at the inaugural Friends of UEFA EURO 2012 event held in Kyiv on Friday.
The launch of the campaign took place at the city's Intercontinental Hotel and brought together leading personalities from the worlds of sport and showbusiness in Ukraine. Up to 100 people in the host country will be officially nominated Friends of UEFA EURO 2012 – half of them public figures selected by the local LOC with the remaining spots open to the general public via various competitions, for people of all ages.
Children will have the opportunity to participate in drawing contests across several age categories, with the subject relating to the organisation of UEFA EURO 2012 in their native land and how they feel about it. Ukraine tournament director Markiyan Lubkivskyi said: "This project will unite people of great achievements in different spheres of life, and now they will help us to promote UEFA EURO 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. Today we present the first four Friends of UEFA EURO 2012, but later they will be joined by many more famous and talented Ukrainians."
Before the presentation of the initial quartet, Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU) president Grigoriy Surkis took the floor. "The political stability we have had in recent months in Ukraine has led to the uninterrupted financing of UEFA EURO 2012 projects, so now we can talk openly about Ukraine's progress in preparing for the tournament. We are all proud to have heard UEFA president Michel Platini's words a few days ago when he said all four Ukrainian cities will host matches.
"We can already feel the EURO with Israel and Malta beginning the qualifying campaign yesterday," Surkis added. "Today's event enables lots of our citizens to become part of the tournament by gaining the status of UEFA EURO 2012 friends." The first, and perhaps most famous, of the friends was six-time world pole vault champion Bubka, who said: "It's a pleasure to be a friend of the EURO. I am very thankful for such an honour. I'm glad we have a big, united team that makes everything possible for this tournament to be hosted at the highest level. I have no doubt UEFA EURO 2012 will be a great success, and we will all be proud with the organisation of this fantastic event."
"I think EURO 2012 is perhaps the quickest way of improving the world's image of Ukraine. I'm sure the legacy of the tournament will meet all our expectations," said double Olympic sprint champion Valeriy Borzov. The esteemed translator and book publisher Ivan Malkovych declared: "The European football championship is a great opportunity to unite everybody in Ukraine." The fourth friend, renowned singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, said: "This is the perfect chance for our country to make the first real step towards Europe."