Bouncing back: Poland earmarks millions to revive the country’s flagging football fortunes

Robert Lewandowski (C) and Poland national football team, May 2016. Jacek Bednarczyk/PAP

Poland's disastrous showing at the World Cup this summer and the following dismal performances by club teams in various European competitions has prompted even the prime minister to get involved in the hunt for improvement.

A special team of experts supported by Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister, has been tasked with rejuvenating the fortunes of Polish football, and it will have billions of złoty at its disposal.

Totalizator Sportowy, the state-owned company that owns the Lotto brand, will pump PLN 1.5 billion into the national game. The investment is in line with the company’s remit of collecting funds for financing the renovation and construction of sport infrastructure and facilities.

“Today, we all feel deep dissatisfaction with what happened in the last World Cup,” said Olgierd Cieślik, the CEO at Totalizator Sportowy. “We have to do everything in our power to ensure success at such events in a few years’ time.”

The money will flow into Polish football gradually as the planned restoration project is a long-term one. But to begin with Totalizator intends to spend about PLN 300 million on improving infrastructure, developing young talent and better trainers.

The project is based on that used by Belgium, which despite its diminutive size has become a leading power in world football and saw its national team finish third in the World Cup.

“We need to build Polish football from scratch, and we need new infrastructure," said Morawiecki during a conference on financing Ekstraklasa, the Polish first division.

The shoddy and patchy infrastructure in the game means that Ekstraklasa players lack indoor training facilities, and so have difficulties training during the 3-4 month winter break. In comparison their colleagues in the west or in warmer climates can practice all year round without interruption.

To help things along PKO BP, one of Poland’s largest banks has signed up to help.

"The bank intends to engage in long-term co-operation with the Ekstraklasa,” says Mariusz Chłopik, director of sports marketing at PKO BP. “As part of a long-term sponsorship project, we will primarily support the development of the league and young football talent. Instead of investing in elderly foreigners--‘ex-stars’ without real quality—we should be spending money on young players in this country.

“Since Vadis [a Belgian who turned out for Legia Warszawa] left the league there has been no foreign player in the Ekstraklasa who attracts fans to stadiums,” adds Chłopik. “But the examples of Sebastian Szymański and Jarek Niezgoda from Zagłębie Lubin show that if you put faith in a young footballer and remember that he has the right to make mistakes, he can develop very well."

With this mind a big chunk of the Totalizator Sportowy money will go on the development of Polish talent. A central football academy will be opened along with 16 provincial branches. Sportowy also wants to create a database of young players that will help clubs to scout for, and monitor, talent.

Under the plan young players will be subject to a uniform training system, and any club implementing the programme will be able to count on financing for trainers and training sessions.