Will Europe’s Olympic experiment work?

Baku in Azerbaijan will host the first European Games in 2015 but there are plenty of hurdles to jump before then.

The European Games plans to include Rugby Sevens but might not feature swimming and track & field [AFP]
The European Games plans to include Rugby Sevens but might not feature swimming and track & field [AFP]

The first ever European Games will take place in 2015, but will Europe’s very own Olympic styled event be a hit?

The European Olympic Committees (EOC) certainly thinks so, and decided to establish the event during its 41st General Assembly on Saturday.

The capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, will host the inaugural competition and the EOC President, Patrick Hickey, is very positive about the venture.

He told Al Jazeera English “the EOC is extremely confident that the inaugural Games will be a great success”.

Hickey also believes the event, which will be hosted every four years, is overdue.

“Europe is the only continent without a games and therefore it was decided that we should have our own”.

“Europe is the only continent without a games and therefore it was decided that we should have our own”

EOC President, Patrick Hickey

Events like the Pan American and Asian Games have become permanent fixtures on the sporting calendar, and Hickey’s enthusiasm suggests that the European version will cement itself alongside them.

However, there remain numerous hurdles facing the organisers.

Unlike the Pan American and Asian Games, the European Games might not feature Olympic favourites like swimming and athletics.

“We are still negotiating with Swimming and Track & Field and we hope to include them as well” said Hickey.

But considering that 2015 will be a busy year for both sports, as they will be staging world championships, their inclusion is unlikely.

Furthermore another Olympic crowd puller, basketball, will not feature. The FIBA EuroBasket competition will happen in late 2015, and a pan-European competition in Baku might disrupt preparations.

Without these sports, in particular athletics, the European Games runs the risk of becoming a showcase for B-list spectator sports.

Karate kicks on

Nonetheless 15 sports have already been confirmed including volleyball, boxing and judo.

Rugby fans might be pleased to hear that Rugby Sevens will also feature in Baku – even though the sport’s World Cup is set for the same year.

There is also a distinct possibility that Karate will be included. The European Games will be an opportunity for the sport to prove its worth as it pushes to be included in the 2020 Olympics.

If this year’s World Championship is anything to go by, then it could be the show stealer. The event was reportedly the best in the sports history, and saw 16,000 spectators ram pack the Palais Omnisports in Paris.

The organisers of the European Games will hope all the events in Baku will receive that kind of support. But sceptics might suggest that if that was a possibility, then there would have been a rat race to host the competition.

As it turned out, Baku was the sole bidder, and this was despite assurances to National Olympic Committees that the event will not cost them a penny.

       Karate is one of the sports hoping to make an appareance at the inaugural European Games [AFP]

But Azerbaijan could be the last one laughing as the country stands to earn over 150 million dollars from sponsors, ticket sales and broadcasting rights, according to its Sports Minister, Azad Rahimov, who made the claim at a press conference on Tuesday.

However, the Minister’s enthusiasm might be misplaced. Getting sponsors on board will be a huge task, according to Sports Management Professor Simon Chadwick, of Coventry University.

He said, “The organisers think there are going to be financial returns and commercial gains, but I think the European Games are facing a very difficult challenge”.

“Also, if athletics is not included, then you have lost a major world sport, and it will be much harder to attract sponsors around niche sports”.

Chadwick believes that the competition will offer sports fans something new, but warns that the global sporting sphere is already very crowded.

“The problem for the European Games is that it’s competing with events with brand recognition like the Olympics, FIFA and UEFA. It will be going head-to-head with them, and it will be difficult to cement itself into the calendar”.

But despite the cloudy picture that Chadwick paints, he is willing to reserve judgement until the games happen. The EOC will be hoping that others will adopt a similar policy and even get behind the games.

A solid social media campaign will be vital. Through using Twitter and Facebook, the organisers will be able to create some pre-tournament buzz – which has already started to ferment.

Following the announcement that the games will happen, “European Games” was trending on Twitter.

Also the games received an 85% vote in its favour at the EOC General Assembly. This was a “huge vote of confidence” according to EOC President, Patrick Hickey, and it’s clear that the European Games is building up some steam.

Whether this momentum will snowball or whimper out remains to be seen. The event is earmarked for June 2015, so that’s nearly 30 months to get things right.

If the organisers can strike the right commercial deals, and somehow get athletics on board, then who knows, Baku could be the start of something special.

Source : Al Jazeera

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