Last weekend marked the opening of the first ever Europe Games, held in Baku, Azerbaijan. The organisers were ambitious and hope to turn Baku 2015 in a historic, near-Olympic experience. But is the rest of the continent just as enthused?
The what Games?
The Europe Games are the answer to the Olympics. They are, in fact, the Olympics – but solely for Europeans. The concept is nothing new – you might have heard of the Asian or the Pan-American Games. In 2012, the European Olympic Committee (EOC) voted in favor of the European counterpart for these Games.
As the sole candidate, Azerbaijani capital Baku was accepted as the host of the first games. Some argue that the Europe Games are a long-overdue answer to other continental competitions, and that Europe is finally catching up with the other continents. But as ‘Baku 2015’ kicks off, it seems Europe’s sports fanatics still need to be convinced of the excitement of this potentially historic moment. That buzzing feeling that usually spreads as the Olympics approach, has not caught on just yet.
What doesn’t help getting the buzz going, of course, is that the A-listers in athletics, swimming and cycling will not perform at the Europe Games.
The guest country, however, is highly motivated to turn the Europe Games into an accomplished, not to be missed sports event with equal status as its counterparts on other continents. The oil state invested billions in organising the Europe Games, created top-of-the-bill venues and hosted a spectacular opening ceremony.
Over 6.000 athletes are competing in 20 sports, 16 of which feature in the Olympics. Winners of a number of sports can qualify directly for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, next year – which is of course an extra incentive to compete. But as Swiss mountain bike rider Jolanda Neff wins the historic first gold medal of the Europe Games on Saturday, the excitement for the event still hasn’t grown to Olympic proportions. In all fairness, expecting such a buzz at the very first edition of the Europe Games is a little naïve. But in the coming weeks, we will continue to monitor Baku 2015 and its potential of growing into the compeer of the Asian or Pan-American Games.
In one respect, Baku does already fit in with major sports events – although the Azerbaijani government is most likely not pleased with this dubious comparison. Much like the Olympic Games, the Europe Games have sparked the interest of human rights organisations. Azerbeijan is often criticised for its lack of respect for human rights, especially the lack of press freedom. Amnesty International intended to present a damning report on the government’s human rights offences, but its people are denied entrance to the country.
Several foreign reporters, including those of British newspaper The Guardian, are also not allowed to enter the country during the Europe Games. In this respect, Baku 2015 fits right in with Beijing 2008, Sochi 2014, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, to name a few: each of these major sports events created controversy over the lack of human rights in the host nation.
The Europe Games will end on Sunday June 28. Check your local sports media for broadcasting schedules, and stay tuned with Pandeia for our perspective on Baku 2015.
Words by Lisanne Oldekamp
Picture by Trevor Claringbold