Athletics Officially Part of Baku 2015

(ATR) Also: Three cities are interested in bidding for the 2019 European Games.

Pat Hickey has confirmed that athletics will be part of the first European Games in Baku and revealed that three cities are bidding for the 2019 edition.

Baku 2015 organizers held a briefing for journalists last night before a reception laid on for 150 guests at the four-star Azimut Hotel adjacent to the Olympic Park.

The European Olympic Committees chief told reporters that athletics would be the 19th sport on the program of the Games.

"We have accepted the third league of European Championships in the main stadium," he said, adding that a street athletics event would be held.

This would be similar in format to the Manchester event, billed as the Great CityGames, which is now in its sixth year.

"That will be very attractive and exciting," said the Irish IOC member.

The announcement by Hickey follows months of talks between the EOC and European Athletics Association to ensure athletics is part of Baku 2015. The EAA was previously reluctant to commit to anything because of contract commitments through 2015.

Hickey said Baku organizers were "full steam ahead with preparations," praising the venues as "magnificent".

Most Olympic cities have seven years to develop venues, he stressed.

"We had to telescope it down to two."

Azeri sports minister Azad Rahimov said that four venues were currently under construction, including a gymnastics arena being built for the world championships in June and a 68,000-seat football stadium.

Hickey said he was encouraged by the noises made at the IOC Session in Sochi over the past week where delegates had expressed support to use continental Games as Olympic qualifiers.

Spyros Capralos, the Hellenic Committee chief who heads the EOC’s Baku coordination commission, said some of the proposals to revamp the Olympic program discussed at the IOC Session were part of the Baku 2015 sports schedule. They include some mixed events and new disciplines not on the Olympic program.

He said shooting, triathlon, fencing, archery, and likely boxing were among the sports whose federations were planning to use the European Games as a qualifying event for the Olympics.

For the 2019 European Games, all sports are expected to be Olympic qualifiers.

Bidding for Next Edition

Hickey highlighted the interest from European and international federations in the Baku 2015 project, saying the initial ambition had been to start "small and experimental" but 12 sports had jumped to 19 and six or seven more had been turned down to keep the Games manageable.

The IOC Executive Board member said the EOC would launch the bidding process for the 2019 host city later this month.

He confirmed that three cities had expressed an interest and the bidding procedure would "not be an elaborate system like the IOC [for the Olympics]."

"The last thing we want to do is make it full of bureaucracy and red tape," he added.

Hickey said the European Games was "all about flexibility" and the EOC was keen to tailor the sports program to host cities in the future.

"We don’t want to be a carbon copy of other Games," he said.

Around the Rings asked Hickey if he saw the United World Championships, a proposal from SportAccord president Marius Vizer, as a threat to the European Games concept.

"We haven’t heard of the world games being mentioned for a long time," he responded, adding that he respected what SportAccord was doing with its multisports events such as the Beach Games.

Rahimov indicated that Baku 2015 could be a strong platform to stage an Olympic bid in the future.

He said Baku’s "biggest problem" with previous bids was its lack of experience staging international multisports events. If Baku 2015 went well, "we can proudly say we have passed this" and be "more successful" with an Olympic bid.

Written by Mark Bisson

20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is, for subscribers only.