BAKU (Reuters) - Slovakia won the European Games gold medal in the team event on Monday in front of a near-empty Olympic Stadium, confirming organizers fears that fans would forgo the opportunity to watch athletes from third tier nations.
Athletes from 14 nations competed over two days which ended with Slovakia winning gold, Austria silver, Israel bronze and Moldova securing the fourth and final promotion spot to the second tier.
The vast majority of the impressive 68,000-seat arena, however, remained unoccupied over both days.
Simon Clegg, Baku European Games Operations Committee (BEGOC) operating officer, told a news conference on Monday that a cumulative figure of 22,000 supporters had attended Sunday’s action while a figure of 10,661 was announced midway through the evening session during day two of competition.
Organizers had expressed their delight with attendances at many venues during the inaugural games but for athletics, the crowning jewel of any multi-sport event, fans stayed away.
Clegg, however, said the events had been well-attended.
“The first of two days of athletics competition attracted a really good level of attendance,” Clegg told a news conference earlier on Monday. “Over 22,000 people attended the Olympic Stadium for that event.
“Any figures I give you are cumulative for the day. When I was there at the Olympic Stadium yesterday I was advised there were 16,000 people in there.
“Effectively we have had to retro-fit whatever was available to us in 2015. We accept that the track and field is the third league of the team event and we accept the swimming is a junior event.
“Would it have enhanced the Games (if athletics and swimming had been a higher level competition)? Yes. Does it detract from the Games? The answer is definitely no.
“We have demonstrated that you can organize an outstanding European Games with quality sport even if there is no top-level athletics and swimming and that puts the European Olympic Committees into a very strong negotiating point when they when they start taking about 2019.”
The extravagant opening ceremony was played out in front of a capacity crowd and organizers have since announced Sunday’s closing ceremony will be a sell out too.
Reporting by Tom Hayward; editing by Martyn Herman