Spyros Capralos

A week has now passed since the Flame of Peace was extinguished during a festive Closing Ceremony of Kraków-Małopolska 2023 at the Henryk Reyman Stadium. Its light, however, has shown us the way to a bright future for the European Games.

The core elements were all on display in Poland - most notably with the important new dimension added by Olympic Games qualification; and venues, including the Athletes’ Village, that reached the highest expectations of the European Olympic Family. 

Our members commented that standards were equivalent to those of an Olympic Games, providing an ideal stage for athletes and support staff to build meaningful experience on the road to Paris 2024.

Meanwhile, the glow of performances from the very best athletes of the continent continues: global stars joined us in Kraków-Małopolska including Femke Bol of the Netherlands, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and Estelle Mossely of France. They were among hundreds of world and Olympic medallists on the start lists.

A total of nearly 7,000 athletes delivered some of the most emotional global sports stories of the year so far.

Take the example of Italy’s Giorgio Minisini - the gold medallist who made history as the first man to compete in mixed and team artistic swimming in a major international multisport event. 

Or the magnificent teenage Lebrun brothers, Félix (16) and Alexis (19) from France, who lit up the table tennis venue, taking men’s singles gold and bronze medals en route to a home Games next summer.

Personally, it was my privilege to witness first-hand the achievement of Georgian shooter Nino Salukvadze, whose quota place puts her in prime position to be selected for a record 10th Olympic Games, honouring her father's final wish.

European Olympic Committees President Spyros Capralos at the Closing Ceremony of Krakow-Malopolska 2023 ©Getty Images
European Olympic Committees President Spyros Capralos at the Closing Ceremony of Krakow-Malopolska 2023 ©Getty Images

We can also look at the example of the athletes of Ukraine, who finished third on the overall medals table, with 21 gold medals and three additional Olympic Games qualifying places. Throughout it all, the Olympic Movement has supported them.

The European Olympic Committees (EOC) Executive Committee took its decision regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in line with the Polish Government position and before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued new guidelines offering a pathway for the inclusion of independent neutral athletes from those countries.

We hope, in the future, that no athlete from our continent will be prevented from competing in the European Games simply because of their passport. This is a fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter, which the EOC fully upholds.

Next year’s Olympic Games Paris 2024 were never far from anyone’s mind in Kraków-Małopolska, which were the first continental Games to integrate the IOC's 'Olympic Qualifier' label.

In total, 118 direct qualification places were secured across 10 Olympic sports, including 56 'golden tickets' to Paris that were issued to athletes in their own name. They include the first athletes ever to qualify to an Olympic Games in the new sport of breaking: B-Boy Dany o France and B-Girl India of the Netherlands.

Amid a crowded calendar, Olympic Qualifier status adds an important distinction, which promises to create long-term value, both for the European Games and the wider Olympic Movement. 

Indeed, this was one of the recommendations of Agenda 2020+5, of which other elements were also clear from the delivery of Kraków-Małopolska 2023, paving the way to cost-effectiveness, sustainability and broad appeal.

No permanent venues were constructed for the Games, leaving a legacy of restored facilities that are the right size to accommodate both the local community and international competitions. Meanwhile, new sports were showcased to big crowds at temporary city-centre sites.

Performances were shared via record free-to-air broadcast coverage of the European Games Kraków-Małopolska 2023 across 40 national markets. 

But we know that it is harder than ever to cut through the multiplicity of entertainment options that are now available on every screen. To achieve this requires every digital platform to amplify each other. It requires coordination and imagination.

Viral videos can generate audiences that would cost hundreds of thousands of euros of advertising to assemble. But this viral success does not simply happen by accident. Take for example, the video clips of Belgian shot-putter Jolienne Boumkwo supporting her team by running the 100m hurdles. They were seen hundreds of millions of times.

This story began with a strong partnership with European Athletics, enabling the European Team Championships to become part of the European Games, attracting 16 reigning European champions with its unique team-driven ethos.

Added to this was our unprecedented agreement with the European Broadcasting Union which empowered athletes, European Federations and National Olympic Committees with the rights to share video highlights of the competitions.

Excellent broadcast production from MediaPro captured the content. Clipping and distribution via an app - powered by Atos - put those highlights in the hands of Games participants, ready for them to share.  

To innovate with purpose like this, in the context of a major international multisport competition, is no simple matter. It demonstrates the extent to which the European Games have matured as a product.

As the years prior to this edition of the European Games showed, we live in a world that can be challenging beyond our imagination. 

But the EOC have shown, with the help of our Polish and international friends, that the reward of empowering and enabling athletes to achieve their dreams is as satisfying a goal as ever.