On avoiding the money hangover likely to follow football festivitiesPublished: 29.09.2015

One of the most important Estonian reputation campaigns, the Estonia 100 will be launched in less than two years. One part of it will likely be an elite match of the European club football on the A. Le Coq Arena, which should reach tens of millions of spectators across the world.

Photo: Eero Vabamägi/PM/Scanpix

The celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia can bring about an unpleasant hangover if the expenses of festivities are not carefully thought through. One unfortunate example in this context could be the expansion of the Lilleküla Football Stadium.
 
A committee has been formed by the government to coordinate preparations for celebrating the anniversary of the state. The committee is led by the Prime Minister. This group brings together some of the most important people in the country, who should decide what is and what is not appropriate for the jubilee party. They ought to know who deserves funding and who will be left without it support. These matters have to be carefully deliberated.
 
And the Prime Minister will call the shots. When, after a proposition by Taavi Rõivas, the government decided to approve the allocation of 5 million euros for the expansion of the Lilleküla Football Stadium, several people whose work is closely tied to sports were astonished as to how the state could so easily give out millions of euros. Sports journalists at Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht were likewise baffled, as was entrepreneur and sports referee Atso Matsalu.
 
Rõivas explained that one of the main reasons for funding the Lilleküla Stadium is the subsequent opportunity to introduce Estonia to the world. It is a form of reputation management or even propaganda. According to journalists at Äripäev, there are far better ways to shape the reputation of Estonia as a country. Promoting elite sports has usually paid off only in the long term. A good example here would be the Otepää World Cup that used to get a lot of attention from both domestic and foreign media thanks to former Estonian top-skiers. Unfortunately, these days Estonian cross-country skiing is far from thriving.
 
Aivar Pohlak, Michael Platini, Sepp Blatter or anyone else cannot guarantee that Lilleküla will regularly host world-class footballers. So far stars-players have wound up in Tallinn due to draw results that determine which teams will go head to head.
 
What will be the basis for allocating expenses? Allocating 5 million euros to the Lilleküla Stadium is more likely the result of successful lobbying and playing on emotions than a rationally deliberated and thoroughly analysed need for developing sports infrastructure. For Aivar Pohlak, President of the Estonian Football Association, 5 million euros is definitely good news, but what should those who were left out think of this? Not just people from other sports, but people from all over Estonia. If the goal here is to promote local culture and creative industries, we should start from solving issues that are closer to home.
 
It is not reasonable to try and buy the attention of foreign media for just a couple of hours. Especially, when the gGovernment has just denied the Estonian Public Broadcasting 650,000 euros that would enable them to acquire weeks’ worth of sport broadcasts, televise the Olympic Games or the UEFA European Football Championship.
 
The government should disclose the aims and budget for the state anniversary celebrations. Then we could figure out whether the festivities are mostly about emotions or is tax-payers’ money being spent rationally. Every euro spent should pay off in some way or another.
 
On the brink of the 100th anniversary, Estonia should focus on how to increase its sustainability. This would make it easier to show others that our achievements to date are worthy of attention and could be set as examples to many.

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