BERLIN (Reuters) - The new European Games, with the first edition in Azerbaijan’s Baku in 2015, will not compete with the Olympic Games for athletes, cash or the spotlight, the head of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) Patrick Hickey said.
The EOC announced its plan for a continental Games last week amid some opposition, as Hickey said, from “within the Olympic movement”.
The EOC has yet to get all the big Olympic sports federations on board, including the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which had fixed its calendar up to 2016 long before the new event was announced, swimming and basketball.
“We do not want to do a copy of the Olympics. We want to be innovative and different,” EOC president Hickey told Reuters in an interview. “We will have the core sports but we are flexible.
“The reason we are staging it that year is that we see in the future for this to be a qualifying event for the Olympics (held a year later),” he said. “But that has to be negotiated with the federations and the International Olympic Committee.”
The plan is to have 15 of the 28 Olympic sports represented, among them volleyball, boxing, judo and rugby sevens.
Three non-Olympic sports, including dance sport and karate, will also be part of the event which will have some 7,000 athletes compared to the 10,000 at the Olympics.
“We are the only continent without senior Games. We do not have an event like the Asian Games or the Pan American or African Games,” said Hickey, who also heads the Irish Olympic Committee.
The first edition of the four-yearly event will be staged by cash-rich Baku which had unsuccessfully bid for the summer Olympics of 2016 and 2020.
“Baku and Azerbaijan are not strapped like the rest of Europe. We wanted to get this off the ground and this event will be at no expense to the national Olympic committees,” said Hickey.
Among those concerned about the event is the IAAF, which sees the European Games as cutting into its revenue streams at times of economic strain.
Swimming, another top Olympic sport in terms of viewership and commercial appeal, has also not finalized its participation.
“I understand some international federations are fearing it may dilute their sponsorship,” Hickey said. “They (IAAF) have a difficult situation as they had committed most of their events to 2016 and tied in with sponsors.”
Hickey said talks would continue but the EOC was determined to push ahead even if it meant not having the Olympic core sport of athletics in its first European Games.
“I think we will reach an agreement. That is what we would wish for but, having said that, if it is not possible it will not be possible. Then we will have to do it in 2019.
“This is a trial run, we want to be flexible to shape it in order to have long continuity,” he said.
He said the European Games could also be an option for cities unable or unwilling to shoulder the multi-billion-dollar burden of hosting the Olympics.
“If it is successful, there’s a great attraction. For many European cities this size suits them really well,” said Hickey, adding that a budget had yet to be finalized.
“Invariably we have one or two European cities who lose out on the (Olympic) Games and this would be a good alternative.”
The European Games had already attracted interest from sponsors, said Hickey.
“It is very encouraging. There are already three or four pan-European companies interested. They are looking for something a little lower than Olympic Games but also very European.”
“The same goes for broadcasting. We already have had talks with the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) and they are very enthusiastic.”
Editing by Clare Fallon