POSTED: April 13th 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: European Championships? European Games? It's all a muddle

Europe will host the inaugural continental event in Baku in June © Bigstock
Europe will host the inaugural continental event in Baku in June © Bigstock

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) For many years, most continents have held their own games, the Pan American and the Asian, both since 1951, and the African since 1965. For many nations, these Games have been second in importance only to the Olympics themselves.

However, until this year, Europe has never bothered to put on a multi-sport games, because there have been well-established championships in most Olympic sports for generations. So the first European Athletics Championships were held in 1934, the first swimming championships in 1926, while in weightlifting they have been staged regularly since 1896.

Yet, encouraged by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, will be the scene for the first European Games in June, with more than 6,000 competitors from 47 countries. However, it must be said that the standard in many of the sports will not be the best that the continent can offer.

Several sports are certainly using the competition as a qualifying event for the 2016 Olympics, while the European Judo Championships will actually be part of the Games after they were controversially moved from Glasgow because of an unseemly row over sponsorship. However, of the two main Olympic sports, the athletics competition will be the third league of the European Team Championships, while the swimming will consist of the European Junior Championships.

Still, the event is an interesting idea. As Mark England, the chef de mission of the British team, put it: "This is an opportunity to be part of a wonderful celebration of sport and to be on the cusp of a new era." Perhaps. Certainly, it is unlikely that the Games would ever have taken place had it not been for the Azerbaijanis' determination and finance to promote their country.

Next month, the European Olympic Committee, whose president, Irishman Patrick Hickey, has been a driving force behind the initiative, will announce at a meeting in Turkey which city or possibly cities, (so following the template of the IOC's Agenda 2020), will host the second edition of the Games in 2019.

However, the whole issue has been confused by the recent announcement that in the previous year, 2018, there will be a European Sports Championship in five sports -athletics, swimming, rowing, cycling and triathlon. And to confuse things even further, athletics will be held in Berlin, a city where the sport flourishes and which, in 2009, successfully put on the World Athletics Championships, while the remaining four will be staged at the same time in Glasgow, host of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Where exactly this puts the 2019 European Games is difficult to say -and the truth is that no one really knows, certainly not Sven Arne Hansen, the newly-elected Norwegian President of the European Athletics Association, who has been bewildered by the turn of events.

It may seem a neat and tidy to have a number, although not necessarily all, European championships being held at the same time and in the same city. But there are obviously disadvantages. The most obvious one is that it will restrict the publicity in the media, especially on television, if several European championships are being held simultaneously.

At the moment, these continental competitions are staged in different weeks, often deliberately avoiding each other and also other major events in sport, such as the European Champions' League in football and the Wimbledon tennis championships. These continental competitions often receive coverage in both the electronic and print media. However, TV companies will be unable to give their usual screen time to some sports if they are clashing with other ones.

The situation is a mess and the sooner that someone starts to sort it out, the better it will be for all concerned.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · European Games · Baku 2015 · EOC · John Goodbody

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