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Work begins on Euro 2008 stadium in Zurich

Zurich mayor Elmar Ledergerber (centre) starts digging at the Letzigrund

(Keystone)

Officials in Zurich say they are "relieved" that work has begun on renovating the stadium which will host matches during the Euro 2008 football championships.

As construction got underway on Tuesday, the city authorities said the renovated Letzigrund stadium would be ready in summer 2007, one year before the tournament begins.

Switzerland and Austria are jointly hosting Euro 2008, the world's third largest sporting event after the Olympic Games and the World Cup.

As part of its winning bid to co-host the championships, the Swiss Football Association agreed to stage matches at four stadiums – in Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich.

But within months of being awarded the tournament, plans to rebuild Zurich's Hardturm stadium in time for Euro 2008 unravelled amid opposition from local residents.

At the last minute – and following signals from Uefa, football's governing body, that Switzerland could lose the right to host the tournament altogether if Zurich proved unable to host any matches – the city came up with an alternative plan: a revamp of the old Letzigrund stadium.

Relief

"We were relieved and happy when the people of Zurich agreed to renovate the Letzigrund stadium [in a vote in June]," said Urs Spinner of the city department responsible for construction work.

But he admitted that in the months prior to the vote there were times when it was "very hard to believe" that Zurich would be ready to host the event.

"When plans for the Hardturm stadium didn't work out... a lot of people wanted to forget about [the whole idea of] trying to be part of the European football championships.

"There was a time when we were really disappointed... but now it's like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It's really been like going from heaven to hell and back to heaven."

Three-quarters of those who cast their ballots five months ago said they were in favour of rebuilding the Letzigrund stadium, which aside from Euro 2008 will also be used for athletics meetings and open-air concerts.

"This will be a stadium very much for the people of Zurich," Spinner told swissinfo.

Time and money

Work on the new stadium – which has a budget of SFr110 million ($83.5 million) - officially began at a ceremony attended by Zurich's mayor, Elmar Ledergerber.

Spinner said he had "no doubt" that the work would be completed on schedule by mid-2007.

"Sometimes in Switzerland planning is much more complicated than building, so the worst is already over and now we can really get on with the task in hand," he said.

The Letzigrund is the traditional venue for the annual Weltklasse international athletics meeting.

According to Spinner, the original building schedule foresaw that the city would not be able to host the meeting in 2007 – but the plans have since been revised and the stadium is now expected to be ready in time to stage the event.

The Weltklasse will serve as a key test for the stadium ahead of the start of the football championships, which are scheduled to kick off on June 7, 2008.

Counting costs

The construction work in Zurich comes shortly before the Swiss government is due to discuss a revised budget for co-hosting Euro 2008.

Weekend media reports suggested that the final cost to the federal authorities, cantons and host cities was likely to rise from an initial estimate of SFr10.5 million in 2002 to over SFr200 million.

"I can't comment on the cost issues of Euro 2008 [as a whole]," said Spinner.

"[All I can say is that] we in Zurich will definitely not exceed our construction budget. We are quite sure that there will be no surprises."

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

The revamped Letzigrund stadium is scheduled to be completed by August 2007 at a cost of SFr110 million.
An additional SFr5.9 million is earmarked to ensure that the stadium meets Uefa requirements for the duration of Euro 2008.
The new stadium will have a maximum capacity of 25,000 for football matches, 30,000 for athletics meetings and 50,000 for open-air concerts.
Euro 2008 is due to begin on June 7, 2008, with the final match scheduled for June 29.

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