Belarusian capital Mink selected to host Games in 2019
The capital of Belarus was chosen yesterday to host the 2019 European Games, despite criticism of the country’s human rights record and concerns over the cost of the event.
The European Olympic Committees approved Minsk — the only candidate — by an overwhelming majority to host the second edition of the multi-sport games. The Netherlands withdrew as host last year, citing financial worries.
Minsk was backed by a large majority of EOC assembly delegates despite objections from Norwegian and Danish representatives that the committee had rushed into picking Belarus without enough scrutiny.
Lukashenko has been in power for more than 20 years in Belarus, a former Soviet republic where political opposition is tightly restricted. It is also the last country in Europe to use the death penalty.
After criticism of last year’s inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, on human rights grounds, EOC acting president Janez Kocijanic said there could be more of the same in Belarus in 2019.
The games in Baku involved lavish spending on new arenas and ceremonies, but failed to attract many top athletes. Belarus is focusing on quality over quantity.
Kocijanic said the games would be “a little bit more modest but normal,” but an “excellent games” in terms of the level of competition. Belarus Olympic Committee general secretary Anatoly Kotov said he expected to have between 10 and 15 sports on the program, compared to more than 20 last year.
Whether that will include swimming or track and field — traditionally the two Olympic sports with the largest following — is unclear. The European governing bodies for the two sports jealously guard the popularity of their own European championships, and have banded together to stage a joint event in 2018.
In Baku, swimming was held as a junior competition and track and field as a team event.
In his speech to the assembly, Belarusian president Lukashenko urged more events from the European Games to be made qualifiers for the Olympics in order to attract more top athletes and fans, a position shared by the EOC.
Controlling spending is a key concern for Belarus, which is in recession and has asked the EOC and International Olympic Committee to provide financial support for the games, though it was not clear yesterday whether that would be provided.
Minsk would likely need to spend far less than Baku to host the games, having built or refurbished many sports venues in recent years. The Belarusian capital hosted the world track cycling championships in 2013 and world ice hockey championships a year later.