The European Games: A Reality Show? -- Op Ed

(ATR) Luciano Barra opines on the costs and benefits of the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.

I could have written this article before the first European Games in Baku started and it would not have changed by the time the event finishes.

There are positive aspects to the Games. The venues are of a very high level, even better than some Olympic ones, with perfect organization based on British know-how - CEO Simon Clegg, COO Doug Arnot, sports director Pierce O’Callaghan - and London 2012 input, plus a television production of high quality thanks to Manolo Romero. Some have outlined the lack of spectators, but this was to be expected.

I had the chance to watch the games on SKY Italia, who - thanks to their 250 hours of coverage - have given a showcase to sports and disciplines that most of the time are neglected on a first-class stage.

European networks like SKY gained the broadcast rights to the Games at a favorable rate, some of them even landing the rights for free. This was a clever move by organizers and, for sports fans, it has provided a nice change of pace from the usual football saga.

The problem has been the contrast between the quality hardware and weak software. With very few exceptions, the technical value of competitions have been low. Organizers have done their best to make each event appealing, even listing many sports as Olympic qualifiers.

While true in some lower-tier sports, it appears it was too much to ask marquee Olympic attractions like swimming and athletics to make the event a qualifier in year one.

Many sports have used the event as a showcase in hopes of being seen by the IOC and gaining entry to the Olympic program. Others have introduced new events with similar hopes. Organizers have been clever in helping the countries of Europe do that.

The question remains: is it possible to justify the cost of such an event - media reports have said $4 to 5 billion - with such poor competition? We will never know the cost, much like we’ll never know the commercial value of the TV rights.

One figure we do know is the cost of the opening ceremony at $100 million, a figure that doubles the one for the London 2012 Olympics.

Organizers and the EOC should explain what Lady Gaga had to do with the European Games. It would have been better to have a European star like Andrea Bocelli or maybe Conchita Wurst.

Thanks to the media, the event has underlined the importance of Europe closing the gap between themselves and Asia and North America, who have had their own games for years. It's always good to remember that continental games like those started 70 years before the continental associations were born.

In Europe, the federations started their own championship 80 years before the European Olympic Committees. Therefore, with a European calendar already full, it’s not easy to insert a new event of high level.

Will it be possible for the EOC to find another venue like Baku, ready to welcome European federations, NOCs (with travel and accommodation for 6,000 athletes and their officials), IOC members, etc.?

Whether it be Belarus, Russia, Turkey or elsewhere, the future of this Games more than a venue. Staging the event should focus on two main aspects: 1) finding a formula that works for all sports and 2) harmonizing the different European federations with the international calendar.

This is difficult because swimming and athletics will never get in sync, having their European championships in the even years and the World Championships in the odd years. The commercial value of these championships and the publicity the sports receive in Europe is too important to give up.

A final comment about the medal tally published on the Baku 2015 website, which is well done: how is it possible to publish a medal tally where you add pears to apples? How can you add medals from junior championships to medals of high level? How can you award three medals to the first three teams of the European third league athletics event?

In any case, a high note should be given to the organizers and to the athletes; less positive to EOC, who in order to satisfy the ego of the Azerbaijan Government have accepted things that should have not been accepted.

Written by Luciano Barra

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