European Games confirmed for Baku 2015

SEBASTIAN COE: Says Athletics will now need to decide where the European Games fit in the already packed calendar.
SEBASTIAN COE: Says Athletics will now need to decide where the European Games fit in the already packed calendar.

China and Japan already compete in the Asian Games. The Americas have the Pan American Games. Africa organises the All-Africa Games.

Now Europe is getting into the act, too.

The inaugural European Games have been approved by continental Olympic committees and assigned to Baku in June 2015 - ending years of debate. However, problems remain to include the marquee sports of athletics and swimming.

The secret ballot of European Olympic Committees passed with 38 in favour, eight against and three abstaining. The capital of Azerbaijan was the sole candidate.

The results were met with applause from the floor of 49 delegations at the two-day EOC general assembly.

"A baby has been born and now you have to (grow) the games," EOC president Patrick Hickey said. "We have passed start and it's all systems go now."

The biggest obstacle to a European Games had been the fact that athletics and swimming already have established continental competitions.

"Europe needs to be in the same position like the rest of the world," former NBA star turned Serbia Olympic committee president Vlade Divac said. "This is just the beginning of something in the future very important for sports in Europe."

Dates have not been fixed yet, but as many as 7000 athletes are expected to participate.

The games will include 15 of the 28 summer Olympic sports, plus two non-Olympic sports - which haven't been selected yet.

Thirteen sports have signed letters of intent: archery, badminton, boxing, canoeing, fencing, handball, judo, rugby sevens, shooting, taekwondo, table tennis, triathlon and volleyball.

Negotiations are ongoing with athletics, swimming, gymnastics and wrestling. The EOC hopes to have a final list of sports by the end of March.

Competitive dancing is likely for one of the non-Olympic sports, while karate and futsal could also be included.

"We're not setting out a carbon copy of the Olympic Games. We want to be different, we want to be innovative and most of all we want to appeal to the youth of sport," Hickey said. "Dancing is one of the biggest sports in Europe and nearly every nation has a TV show featuring professional athletes dancing."

The games will be held every four years.

The idea for a European Games had been under consideration for years, but this was the first time the EOC voted. The already crowded sports calendar had been among the main concerns.

"We have to understand sports with competitions already planned through 2016. The first games are always a trial and test run," said Hickey, who is planning for a 'huge' event in 2019. "We got great support at 84 per cent, which makes us very happy. We also want to make the other (16) per cent happy, but we don't know who they are."

Athletics and swimming world championships have already been scheduled for 2015. The athletics event will be held in Beijing in August, while the swimming competition is slated for Kazan, Russia, in July.

In a statement, European Athletics ruled out any involvement for 2015 - although the governing body left the door open for possible participation after that.

Sebastian Coe, the newly elected chairman of the British Olympic Association and a two-time Olympic middle-distance champion, wasn't ruling athletics completely out for the inaugural edition.

"I think some of the (national athletics) federations are quite warm to involvement, but these are ongoing discussions," Coe said.

"Clearly as the largest of the summer federations, track and field will want to view it," added Coe, who is also a vice president of the world athletics body IAAF. "Until today's decision, in a way it was a hypothetical conversation. Now it's a conversation about practicality and working groups and I'm sure track and field will want to watch the landscape."

Athletics and swimming European championships will be held in 2014.

"We're open to looking at our options and we don't want to say 'No' before the fact, but the calendar is already packed and 2015 is around the corner," European swimming federation (LEN) President Paolo Barelli said.

And what about big team sports like basketball?

"If these games get a level of qualification for the Olympics in the future, then it's going to draw more attention and more importance for other federations," Divac said. "That would be something basketball people should think about."

However, basketball's revamped 2019 World Cup is slated to be the main qualifying route for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Baku submitted a bid for the 2020 Olympics but was eliminated when the IOC selected a shortlist of three finalists in May.

"We are ready and Baku will do its best to host the games and open the way for many years of games on the continent," said Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan's Minister of Youth and Sport, adding that Baku plans to use mainly existing structures and temporary constructions.

Armenia asked not to vote, as it remains in a conflict with Azerbaijan over the mountainous territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Armenia behaved impeccably," Hickey said. "They approached me before and assured me this was a sport and only sport move, and they put me on the phone with an official in Azerbaijan to confirm that."

Also, Rahimovic noted that many Armenian athletes have competed recently in Azerbaijan.