ROME (AP) — After years of debate, the European Games could be about to become a reality.
The European Olympic Committees will vote on the proposal Saturday, with Baku — the capital of Azerbaijan — the sole candidate to host the multi-sport event in June 2015. Other continents already have regional competitions, such as the Asian Games and Pan American Games. The biggest obstacle to a European Games has been the fact that two major sports — athletics and swimming — already have established continental competitions.
"We are the only continent without a games," EOC President Patrick Hickey told The Associated Press on Friday. "So what are we doing that's different to anyone else? Why are people saying we shouldn't have it? There is a great interest in Europe to see European champions. So let's do it. Let's give it a go."
A simple majority in Saturday's secret ballot of 49 voters will determine if the games go ahead or not. Dates for the games have not been fixed. The idea for a European Games has been floated for years, but this is the first time the EOC will vote. The already crowded sports calendar has been among the main hurdles to the proposal.
"When (IOC president) Jacques Rogge was president of the EOC in the early 90s he did a feasibility study and it didn't work out due to various reasons and calendar clashes, etc.," Hickey said. "We've gone after it a bit differently. He was doing the 28 Olympic sports. We're only going for 15, and two non-Olympic sports."
The two non-Olympic sports have not been decided yet. "We want to be innovative and we don't want a carbon copy of the Olympic Games," Hickey said. "And it's 2015, so we've got to get going fast." The games would be held every four years.
"These first games will be very much a trial and test run for a huge event in 2019," Hickey said. "My idea is that this would become a qualifier for the Olympic Games in 2020 for certain sports. We have to negotiate with certain federations."
Baku submitted a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics but was eliminated when the IOC selected a shortlist of three finalists in May. "The Russian Olympic Committee is ready for close collaboration with the Olympic committee of Azerbaijan to secure organization of the first games," Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said Friday during the opening of the EOC general assembly.
The two-day meeting was moved to Rome from the Israeli resort of Eilat two weeks ago because of the violence between Israel and Hamas. Rogge was due to attend the Rome meeting but canceled his trip Friday because of snow in Geneva.
Europe already has its own high-profile continental athletics and swimming championships, which alternate years with their world championships. The 2015 swimming world championships are scheduled for Kazan, Russia, in July. The European swimming championships will be in Berlin in 2014. Next year's swim worlds are slated for Barcelona, and European swimmers will also compete in the Mediterranean Games in Mersin, Turkey, in 2013.
"We're open to looking at our options and we don't want to say 'No' before the fact, but the calendar is already packed and 2015 is around the corner," European swimming federation (LEN) president Paolo Barelli told the AP.
Hickey said the EOC has held talks with swimming officials and is "very confident" to have the sport in its games. The European track and field championships will be held in Zurich in 2014, with the world championships in Beijing in 2015.
"We're still in negotiations with track and field," Hickey said. "But we would dearly love them to have some involvement in 2015 to assess it and then see if they come in full time for 2019. "It's like everything else," Hickey added. "If you listen to all the objections and all the problems you would never even start thinking."
In a statement, European Athletics ruled out any involvement for 2015 — although the governing body left the door open to a possible participation after that. "2015 is for us not possible as we already have contractual obligations to honour," it said in a statement.
"Nowadays, though, the future is requesting a strong coordination between sports bodies and other parties such as television for example, in order to be successful. If this coordination can be achieved, then European Athletics is open to looking to such solutions."