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Why the European Championships could be this year’s surprise sporting success

A new event unites Europe’s best – and you can watch it all for free

Published: Thursday, 2nd August 2018 at 9:16 am

The satellite companies keep buying up top sporting events. If you don’t subscribe to the right channels, you are deprived of live Test match cricket, Premier League action, Champions League football, all kinds of stuff. The idea is that you miss them all so much you just have to take out a subscription.


But there’s a fascinating counter-revolution taking place alongside. The shortage of familiar sport on free-to-air channels has created a hunger for athletic excellence, for the unending dramas of sport and for the simple joys of partisanship – and this hunger can be sated by free-to-air channels that bring us sporting brilliance in less familiar forms.

We may not be able to watch Cristiano Ronaldo outside of the World Cup, but we can turn to other disciplines and find the same kind of quality, all the more compelling for the way it comes in a radically different package.

And that is the thinking behind the European Championships, which will be launched for the first time across the continent, and all of it free-to-air.

The events take place in two cities and across seven different sports, in the great European belief that sports, like nations, are better together. Britain will be a part of it: most of the events will be in and around Glasgow, the city that did such a terrific job of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The athletics will take place in Berlin, while Glasgow will hold swimming and diving, cycling – all four Olympic disciplines: road, track, mountain bike and BMX – gymnastics, rowing and triathlon.

So far, so understandable: all of these are heartland Olympic sports holding serious competitions that every competitor will be desperate to win. But bizarrely, there’s also a team golf event at Gleneagles. It’s likely to lack the intensity of the other events… but no doubt it will please punters who were unable to watch the Open because it was on a subscription channel.

We look on any newfangled sporting event with suspicion, and we are right to do so, knowing that at least 90 per cent of the thinking will be about making money rather than producing great sport.

A good litmus test is the question: has it got cheerleaders? The more gimmicks they bring in to beguile an audience, the less faith we have in the actual sport.

The European Championships seem to be based on a sound structure: championships most of the sports would be holding anyway, in a format that already matters to those taking part. The only gimmick is to bring them together in space and time, so you can go from the 100 metres standing up to the 100 metres lying down, from piked somersaults landed feet-first to piked somersaults completed head-first, with racing on legs and arms and wheels and boats, and all that matters is who finishes first.

It’s not the Olympic Games, neither is it supposed to be – but it has something of the same purity of purpose, that deeply refreshing feeling that the athlete’s obligation is not to entertain but to seek excellence: a quest that can touch us all and become enthralling.

The BBC is going big on these championships, continuing a wonderful summer of sport. At the World Cup we celebrated the power of the collective, especially in the team spirit of the gloriously unexpected England team.

Now with this quite different garland of sports at the European Championships, we have an opportunity to celebrate the individual, which is all part of sport’s rich pattern. And you know, this might just be the year’s unexpected sporting success.


The European Championships is on TV from Friday 9.00am on BBC2/BBC red button, 1.45pm BBC1

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