Marion Schöne

As the chief executive of Munich’s Olympic Park, a legacy of the 1972 Olympic Games and now the location for the European Championships Munich 2022, my answer is simple when it comes to the question of why the Bavarian capital is taking over the baton from the inaugural edition in Glasgow and Berlin in 2018 and hosting the second edition of this innovative multi-sport event.

It was because the 50th anniversary of the Olympic Games falls this year, and we were looking for a sporting highlight for our golden jubilee. We were looking for a multi-sport event with Olympic sports, and we had been in contact with European Championships Management (ECM), owner of the rights to the event, since 2014.

When I came to my new position as chief executive of the Olympic Park in 2017, I continued the talks with ECM. We had been looking for a very good sporting event for our 50th anniversary - and we’ve found one.

Unusually, for a major multi-sports event, Munich 2022 has met with no significant opposition from local people protesting that the money required to stage the event could be better spent on schools or hospitals. Maybe this is because the construction of the concept, including the stakeholders behind it, has not built up an adverse image in the eyes of some people.

Also, our image, here in the Olympic Park, is very good. We have been running our venues since 1972, and we have more than four million visitors a year, so everyone knows we are not a white elephant.

The European Championships Munich 2022 will be the biggest sports event in Germany since the 1972 Olympics, featuring the European Championships of nine Olympic sports: athletics, beach volleyball, canoe sprint, cycling, gymnastics, rowing, sport climbing, table tennis, and triathlon.

The 850,000-square-metre Olympic Park will be at the heart of the event, but the entire city will participate in the golden jubilee celebrations, with exhibitions and events taking place in public spaces and online, celebrating sport, culture, design, and architecture, under the heading: "Munich on a Path to the Future 1972–2022–2072".

The Munich 1972 Olympics are, of course, remembered by many around the world for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman by Palestinian terrorists, and the European Championships will acknowledge and commemorate this tragedy, and there are also events including a minute of silence during the Opening Ceremony of the Festival of the Games, Sports and the Arts on July 1, and commemorative events throughout the year, with one month being dedicated to each of the victims.

However, the 1972 Olympics are also remembered as the moment that helped Germany forge a new image as a modern, democratic country, while Munich itself became recognised as a major international city.

The 1972 Olympic Games helped establish Munich as an international city ©Getty Images
The 1972 Olympic Games helped establish Munich as an international city ©Getty Images

This is the starting point for the vision on which the European Championships will be built, a vision of an inspiring and lasting legacy for all participants: for the city of Munich, the state of Bavaria, the Federal Government and also for future sporting events in Germany.

Hosting nine European Championships simultaneously is not simple, involving balancing the sometimes competing demands of a wide range of stakeholders, including the International Federations of the nine sports; the city, state, and Federal Governments, which are financing the event; the European Broadcasting Union’s (EBU) free-to-air public-service broadcast members, and ECM itself.

I have to say, it was a challenge, and it is still a challenge. 

On the sports side, we have one common goal: we want to stage successful European Championships. We want to put sport and the athletes on stage and to celebrate a really great multi-sports event.

But we have nine Federations, and ECM and the EBU, and you can imagine that everyone has their own goals and their own benefits in mind, and that is the challenge: to bring all stakeholders together and motivate them that this is really a task of team spirit.

I think we should remember the values of sport: respect, fairness, and team spirit. We all have to work together and think not only of our own benefits.

I have found, as I seek to balance those competing demands, and build a working consensus, that an immovable deadline can sometimes be a useful ally.

You must be transparent and very communicative when you are working together. We launched nearly 50 Europe-wide tenders, and this is very much a question of bureaucracy. For me, it is like a culture clash. On the one hand you have civil servants who have to look at their guidelines and saying, "You can’t do that," and we say, "But we have to do it. The event starts on August 10, and we can’t postpone it!”

Raising the money to stage the European Championships from the city, state and Federal Governments took years of delicate negotiation and persuasion - talks with ECM about hosting the event actually began as far back as 2014.

The budget is around €130 million (£110 million/$131 million), and we expect revenues of round about €30 million (£25 million/$30 million), so we needed €100 million (£85 million/$111 million). I got in contact with the public authorities from the Government, from the state of Bavaria and from the city of Munich, and I spoke first to my Lord Mayor, and I tried to convince him that this event was worth financing.

At first, he was shocked by the amount but eventually he relented, giving his word that the city would pay its share if the Government and state did likewise.

German authorities have thrown their full support behind the 2022 European Championships, the highlight of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Olympic Games ©Munich 2022
German authorities have thrown their full support behind the 2022 European Championships, the highlight of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Olympic Games ©Munich 2022

Initially, the Federal Government wanted us to wait until a national strategy for hosting major sports events was ready in 2024, but once again I was able to make use of the immovable deadline of the European Championships. I told them, "I’m sorry but we can’t wait. In 2024, the golden jubilee of the Munich 1972 Olympics will already be over!"

In the meantime, however, the project received really good support from the state of Bavaria, especially from the then Minister of the Interior, who is a sports fan. They became our biggest supporter.

It was then that politics intervened, to our advantage, because the Minister of the Interior was from the same political party as the ruling government party at the time, the Christian Social Union, and was able to win the Government round.

Then we had support from the government. Our Lord Mayor kept his word and the City Council decided to finance the event.

The city, of course, will benefit from hosting the Championships, with the local economic department having calculated that the total economic impact on Munich will amount to €122 million (£104 million/$123 million), based on the number of visitors and how many will stay in the city.

All the venues, including our iconic Olympic Stadium, with its distinctive tensile roof designed by architect Gunther Behnisch and engineer Frei Otto, evoking the outline of the nearby Alps, already exist, with only minor renovation work required to bring them up to the standard required to host the European Championships.

Those renovations, including a new running track and upgrading the floodlights in the Olympic Stadium, plus work on the rowing course, were paid for by the city of Munich as part of a renovation plan for the stadium, which will start after the European Championships.

So, the work is already done, on time, and on budget. But all the works, except the track, would have been done without the European Championships, because we needed the renovations.

Preparations for hosting the event have, of course, been severely impacted by the various lockdowns associated with COVID-19. Restrictions in Germany were only finally lifted on March 20 this year, meaning, we have calculated, that 80 per cent of the work required to host the championships has taken place during the pandemic.

This, of course had an effect on ticket sales, which were launched one year later than planned in autumn 2021 and were then hit by yet another partial lockdown. We could not start ticket sales when no one knew if we could really stage the event with spectators. So, we had to wait. We started the promotion campaign on May 3, so we had to start very, very late.

Consequently, we’ve entered into cooperation agreements to promote the event with a range of institutions and media, from the local airport to newspapers, television and radio stations and newspapers, and we have now announced our first sold-out events: the finals of the men’s and women’s beach volleyball. So, I am really optimistic that in the end we will have sold-out stadiums and venues.

Bayern Munich played at the Olympic Stadium until they moved to the new purpose built Allianz Arena in 2006 ©Getty Images
Bayern Munich played at the Olympic Stadium until they moved to the new purpose built Allianz Arena in 2006 ©Getty Images

The Olympic Stadium was the home of Munich’s two professional soccer teams, Bayern and 1860 Munich, until 2006, when they moved into the city’s newly built Allianz Arena, but the Olympic Park has continued its rich heritage of hosting major sporting events, which have included matches of soccer’s 1974 FIFA World Cup and 1988 European Championships, along with countless other events, from DTM touring car races to the handball World Championships in 2019. In 2024, it will host Munich’s fan zone for the UEFA European Championships.

My own background was working for the city of Munich, so I have had a long association with the Olympic Park, whose operating company is 100-per-cent owned by the city.

Unlike others in similar positions, I’m not a child of the sports business. Amateur sport is a big part of my life - running, mountain biking, yoga, tennis, basketball… I love sport, but it is only since 2010, when I started working in the Olympic Park, that I am involved in professional sports events.

Now, my task is to bring the Park into the future. We are a protected landmark, but you also have to look into the future: how can you match the needs of the people? One of my goals was to bring more sport back into the Park. Football moved out, so we also have an ice hockey team playing here - that is great - but we do not have another home team.

What have we learned from the success of the inaugural European Championships in Berlin and Glasgow in 2018, and how will the 2022 edition compare with that event?

First of all, the 2018 edition was divided between two cities in two countries, with athletics taking place in Berlin and the other sports in Glasgow, so now we’re happy to host all nine Olympic sports here in Munich.

What we learned from Glasgow, and we have statistics that show this, is that it is better for all sports and for all Federations to be together as part of a multi-sports event, compared with a standalone event. You get more viewers on television - more than 40 EBU Members have signed up to broadcast Munich 2022 - and you get more spectators on site because it is more interesting for the fans. It i like a mini-Olympic Games because you have different sports in one place.

Hosting a multi-sports event like the European Championships can also contribute to a city’s sporting and social goals. The 2018 event was a booster for Glasgow’s sports strategy. They have a high rate of obesity, so they wanted to host a big sports event to motivate people to take part in sport.

For us it is also important to be sustainable, to encourage people to take part in sport so that membership of sports clubs will rise. Our vision is to show that you can host a big multi-sports event in existing venues. Sustainability is not just a word for us. We want really to live it.

A range of sustainability measures introduced by Munich 2022 includes climate-neutral transport, with free public transport within a radius of 50 kilometres for ticket holders.

A culture and music festival will help ensure the 2022 European Championships in Munich reach an audience beyond just sport ©Munich 2022
A culture and music festival will help ensure the 2022 European Championships in Munich reach an audience beyond just sport ©Munich 2022

We will also have a big culture and music festival around the European Championships, with free entry, so everyone can be part of it. We hope that someone who is in the festival will then buy a ticket for gymnastics or for athletics. But if you are not involved in sport, you can also be part of it, because we are spending €100 million (£85 million/$111 million) of taxpayers’ money, so we must also give something back.

The advice I would give to future hosts of the European Championships is to communicate from the beginning with all stakeholders. Politicians could not have the awareness of what it means to host such a big event. At first, they asked, "Why do you need 150 people to organise this event? Why do you need to start two years before?" 

I said, "Okay, we are late. We should have started four years before the event!"

Then you must bring all the Federations together to create one spirit. Even athletics, which brings the most viewers, will attract more viewers if it is in a multi-sports event. This must go into people’s minds. And then you can start work.