European Championships stakeholders bid to resolve turmoil and seek way forward
By Callum Murray
Stakeholders of the new multi-sports European Championships were holding the latest in a series of meetings today in a bid to resolve differences over the future of the championships in the wake of this summer’s inaugural edition in Berlin and Glasgow, which was generally judged a success.
That perceived success has arguably sparked the recent turmoil, with stakeholders now taking a closer interest in the future of the quadrennial event, but at odds over a range of issues, including ownership of the concept and identifying host cities for future editions.
At the heart of the dispute, one participant told Sportcal, is the fact that the seven sports that made up the inaugural edition are not “a partnership of equals.” The source pointed out that, for example, “athletics does not need golf in order to be able to continue. Athletics is quite viable as a standalone event.”
Indeed, the European Athletics Championships are a biennial event, meaning that every alternate edition will continue to be staged as a standalone event. The same is also true of most of the other sports, where their European Championships are either biennial or annual events.
While declining to expand on the differences between the stakeholders, Svein Arne Hansen, the president of European Athletics, told Sportcal: “We want to work with all six [other] sports for the future. We have made our view very clear for the future. Now we will wait for the meeting on the 19th.
“I’m very optimistic for a future solution. We have our own ownership, it’s not a problem for us. Athletics knows where we are going.”
All seven of the European sports federations concerned own the intellectual property to their own individual events, according to Sportcal’s source, but no agreement has been reached over ownership of the trademarks of the combined event, which was developed by European Championships Management, the commercial company formed by industry veterans Paul Bristow and Marc Jörg to organise, promote and market the inaugural edition.
Sportcal’s source said: “The IP that Marc and Paul have is the glue of the European Championships brand, but they don’t own the individual championships or their rights. It’s a very different beast from the European Games [the rival multi-sports event owned by the European Olympic Committees], where the IP was already pre-defined. It does need some kind of structure, but they couldn’t agree one for 2018.”
There is also some disquiet over a proposal that the seven sports should form an association with the European Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of public-service broadcasters, to take the event forward, given that this would mean binding the event to the EBU’s free-to-air broadcasters for the foreseeable future, at a time when the media landscape is in a state of flux and fragmentation.
The source said: “The nub of the issue is, when we go to a [potential] host city, they will want to know who they are contracting with. No sport will give up the entire rights for its championships to the European Championships, especially not athletics and swimming [arguably the two most powerful of the federations concerned].
“There needs to be a structure that says to the host city, 'this is who you’re contracting with', and a pooling into the organisation where the rights sit. But it’s not a marriage of equals, and athletics and swimming want a bigger slice of the pie. It’s like the European Union, with France and Germany dealing with Luxembourg and Malta. But we have been making progress towards a structure that allows that to happen.”
Identifying a host city, and dates for the next edition of the championships in 2022, has also been problematic, with some sports especially concerned to avoid a clash with the Commonwealth Games, which are due to take place in Birmingham, England in the summer of 2018.
The source said: “It’s a question of not conflicting, although only three countries [in Europe] are part of the Commonwealth. We need a gap between them [the European Championships and Commonwealth Games] if athletes are to be involved. It’s a major challenge. We’ve got to find a venue, probably not in the UK, given that Birmingham is hosting the Commonwealth Games.
“The concept was never necessarily that we co-locate in one place [athletics was held in Berlin at this summer’s European Championships, with the other sports taking place in Glasgow]. But it’s challenging, and the costs rise, if every sport is in a different place. If it’s two or three [cities], it’s manageable.”
A European Championships Management spokesperson declined to comment on the substance of today’s meeting, but said: “All the stakeholders were really pleased with the outcome of the inaugural multi-sport European Championships in 2018, and we are working with them towards achieving even greater success in 2022.
“From our perspective, we are in the planning phase for 2022. It is a very busy period right now with lots of meetings taking place between the European Federations as regards evaluating 2018 and how we build on that for 2022 with the right configuration, with the next meeting being on 19 November.”
The combined multi-sports European Championships were conceived by Bristow and Jörg, former collaborators on the development of European soccer’s Uefa Champions League, who then created the London-based ECM to develop and realise the concept.
Bristow and Jörg had long been aware that, uniquely in Europe, there was no regular continental multi-sport games, to compare with the likes of the Asian Games, Pan American Games or African Games, albeit the situation has since changed with the launch of the European Olympic Committees’ European Games.
This summer’s inaugural European Championships in Berlin and Glasgow combined and aggregated the existing European Championships of athletics, aquatics, cycling, gymnastics, rowing, triathlon and a new golf team championships. The athletics competition was held in Berlin from 7 to 12 August (thanks to a hosting deal that had already been agreed), and the remaining sports staged in Glasgow (and the surrounding area) from 2 to 12 August.
It is understood that several cities and regions have expressed interest in hosting forthcoming editions of the quadrennial championships.