BERLIN (Reuters) - Next year’s inaugural European Games have generated unexpected media interest, Baku 2015 Chief Operating Officer Simon Clegg said on Friday, despite a complete lack of top track and field athletes from the $1 billion event.
The Azeri capital Baku will host the first continental Games next June, luring top athletes in some sports with 11 direct or indirect qualifiers for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.
The June 12-28 event will have a total of 20 sports, 16 of them Olympic and four non-Olympic sports such as karate, sambo and beach soccer.
With 6,200 athletes, the Games are no small affair and Azerbaijan has pumped in more than $1 billion to organize it in just 30 months instead of four years for its successor, to be named next year.
Designed by the European Olympic Committees as a continental competition similar to the Asian Games or the Panamerican Games, it should eventually serve as a springboard to the Olympics for athletes.
“Things are on track and on schedule but there is no complacency on my part,” Clegg told Reuters on Friday, less than 200 days before the start.
The former British Olympic Association Chief Executive must also a deliver an event that would quickly attract potential hosts for future editions.
Broadcasting rights have been sold to 90 percent of territories in Europe as well as 21 states in North Africa and the middle East and Japan, said Clegg.
”It’s way beyond my expectations,“ he added. ”They were modest that we would get a level of interest across Europe. I was not convinced 18 months ago. But we already have secured a vast majority of our (broadcasting rights) target.
“There are still deals in the pipeline in North America with Canada and the United States and the whole of Latin America.”
The European Games will be missing the international reach of athletics, however, with the sport present with only a third tier continental team competition.
Soccer, an even stronger crowd puller, is represented only by the beach game.
With the European Athletics team championship super league to be held in Russia during the European Games, an initial plan to transfer the event to Baku fell through with Russia resisting such a move.
“We have a challenge with track and field athletics,” Clegg said. “The event that has been designated is the third division of the team event. It is a weekend event for the lowest ranked teams.”
For the European Games to succeed a lot will depend on what Baku delivers on the fields of play.
“There is no brand value,” Clegg said. “But after Baku it will be a reality. We have gone to the commercial market place with a blank piece of paper, containing a concept and a bunch of promises.”
Clegg said his successor for the 2019 edition would have an easier job using blueprints and reducing the cost as energy-rich Azerbaijan had the cash to spare to build a lot of the venues from scratch in a short period of time.
“The message to the second Games is ‘look what has been delivered in just 30 months. Think what you can do if you have four years’,” he said.
Editing by Alan Baldwin