Be­laru­sian cap­i­tal Mink se­lected to host Games in 2019

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

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.

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