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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Is Euro 2004 worth it for Portugal?
By Will Smale
BBC News Online business reporter in Porto, Portugal

Portuguese football fans
The Portuguese love their football

With the start of Euro 2004 now just nine days away, the eyes of the footballing world are preparing to focus upon host nation Portugal.

Amid the growing excitement of football fans, it's hard to remember that some people had serious concerns about whether the ailing Portuguese economy can afford to host such an event.

The deafening roar appeared to get louder each time, amplified though the archaic maze of old streets.

A streaming mass of blue and white pouring out of bars and apartments onto the city's steep pavements, all shouting "POORRRTO! POORRRTO!".

Men and women off all ages jumping up and down, hugging strangers and waving scarves and flags in an overwhelming expression of collective joy - welcome to football celebrations Portuguese-style.

That was the scene last week in the historic heart of Porto, Portugal's second city, the night its eponymous main football team beat Monaco 3-0 to win the European Champions League.

As a trial run for possible Euro 2004 celebrations - a tournament the Portuguese have worried whether their nation can afford - it more than suggested that if their national team can triumph in the tournament, you'll be able to hear the party from Madrid. And it will probably last more than a week.

Cost concerns

You could be excused for thinking the Portuguese have unanimously supported the arrival of Euro 2004 and the chance to share their love of the game with the rest of the world.

What the Portuguese person in the street thinks of Euro 2004.

But opponents originally complained that the tournament was far too expensive.

With Portugal still deep in a lengthy recession, unemployment running at 6.5%, and the centre-right Social Democratic government hacking back public services in an all-out attempt to reduce the country's hefty national debt, domestic critics have attacked the amount of money the state has had to pay to back the tournament.

They say the 596m euros (£396m; $732m) spent by the government of José Manuel Durão Barroso to help pay for, among other things, the construction of seven new stadiums, would have been better used to build new hospitals or for other public services.

The opposition to Euro 2004 has also been blamed on the nation's natural pessimism and under-confidence.

Businessman Ernseto Morgado hopes that a successful 2004 will help turn this around.

Dictatorship

"Many Portuguese people think that a lot of money has been wasted on Euro 2004," said Mr Morgado, president and co-founder of Lisbon-based software company Siscog.

I hope that Euro 2004 will make more people realise that instead we can do whatever we want - if we want to
Businessman Ernesto Morgado

"Things have been tough economically in Portugal over the last few years, and many people have said the money should have instead been spent on hospitals.

"But at the same time every day in Portugal there is always lots of talk about football - it is our national sport, and is a very emotive subject, people are very proud of our team.

"Portugal has in the past always been under-confident, negative about itself. I hope that Euro 2004 will make more people realise that instead we can do whatever we want - if we want to."

Margarida Matos Rosa, head of institutional asset management in Portugal at bank BNP Paribas, suggested that history is to blame for the nation's under confidence.

"You have to remember that Portugal was a dictatorship for many decades, and then in the 1970s you were fearful there would be another Communist coup," she said.

Warm welcome

"It is the type of history that makes Portuguese people understandably a little pessimistic and lacking in entrepreneurial spirit.

"But at the same time we are very hospitable, which is very favourable for our tourism sector."

The Portuguese government estimates that Euro 2004, or simply 'The Euro' as everyone calls it, will be worth some 260m euros in direct tourism revenues from all the visiting supporters, and up to 360m euros in additional tourist cash in the six years that follow the event.

Whether or not Euro 2004 fulfils its economic promise for Portugal, fans are guaranteed a very good party indeed if the host nation is triumphant.

Next Thursday BBC News Online will look at how Portugal was able to build seven new stadiums for Euro 2004 for less than half the price of the new Wembley Stadium in London.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Portugal
05 May 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Portugal
10 Feb 04  |  Country profiles
Portugal reimposes border checks
26 May 04  |  Europe
Lisbon gears up for Euro 2004
19 May 04  |  Europe


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