Katie Taylor looking forward to the first European Games in Baku

Ireland will send a strong team of 62 to the first edition of the Games in Azerbaijan

Katie Taylor at the OCI promotion  ‘100 Days to Go’ marking a countdown the European Games. “It’s a huge occasion and I think that in years to come it will be massive for European athletes.” Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Katie Taylor at the OCI promotion ‘100 Days to Go’ marking a countdown the European Games. “It’s a huge occasion and I think that in years to come it will be massive for European athletes.” Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

The public profile of the event maybe low but Baku 2015 promises not quite the world but certainly Europe and in time it may deliver. With Katie Taylor nominated as one of the athlete ambassadors and other Olympic medallists Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan pledging their support for this year, the first staging of the European Games in June is a work in progress but already one with some heft.

Following on the path of the Pan-Am Games and Asian Games, organisers promise that in time the new competition will become mega, large enough at least for most other sporting events to revolve around it.

Credible start

European Olympic Committees

That would be one of the carrots to allow the event to grow over the next four years. Another would be, as reported in the Guardian, that Baku intends to pay for the travel and accommodation of all the teams.

Organisers also intend to strengthen the depth of the sports competing over the next four years. While boxing is strong, athletics, one of the anchor tenants of any event purporting to be a mini Olympic Games, is reduced to a team athletics competition.

“It is an Olympic qualifier because you can qualify for the Worlds and that is qualifying for the Olympics,” said double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes. “It is unique as well because it is the first one. It’s going to be a big event.

“All roads lead to Rio, I’m going to every tournament I can to try and qualify for the Olympics.”

Second Captains

Barnes is currently fighting in the World Series of Boxing (WSB) and could have a ticket booked for Rio before Baku even begins. He has won four from four in his 49kg division where the top boxer gains automatic Olympic entry. Michael Conlan is lying third in his bantamweight division and is confident of Rio 2016 qualification. Two boxers in his weight category qualify.

Conlan has also strongly hinted that if he does not gain Olympic qualification through the complex WSB, he will join fellow London 2012 Olympian John Joe Nevin and turn professional.

The catchy hook for Baku is that it carries the imprimatur of the IOC and the Olympic rings with June’s event a landmark first. Sixty-two Irish athletes are among those from the 50 competing nations of Europe expected to participate.

Very prestigious

“Europe is the strongest continent in boxing so there is going to be no easy contest. You saw in the last World Championships three out of four in the semi-finals were European and six out of eight in the quarter-finals were European fighters.

“All the usual suspects will be there as well – the likes of Sofya (Ochigava), the French girl as well (Estelle Moseley) and the Azerbaijan girl (Yana Alekseeva).”

Boxing sends the strongest Irish team but judo, canoeing, gymnastics, Triathlon and basketball in a revised 3x3 format are part of the package. Judo’s London Olympian Lisa Kearney is also on the team.

But the Games, although just 99 days out from the opening ceremony, are not free from the sort of human rights controversy that dogged the run in to the Beijing Olympics.

“Its authorities are among the most repressive in Europe and would certainly be on the medal-winning podium if prizes were on offer for the number of activists and rights defenders behind bars,” said Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen.

That aside it’s an interesting sporting experiment. Few organisations could plant something of its size into a packed sports schedule and expect not only little opposition but for it to blossom. IOC president Thomas Bach has called it the missing fifth ring of the Olympic movement. It is also being championed by Irish and EOC president Pat Hickey.

Irish viewers will be able to watch via Setanta Sports. The broadcaster has signed an agreement to screen eight hours of competitions daily as well as daily highlights and the opening/closing ceremonies.

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