Hasan Arat

This week marked a significant milestone on the road to the European Games Krakow-Malopolska 2023 with the traditional lighting of the Flame of Peace.

The symbolism of the venue for the Ceremony - the historic Ara Pacis ("peace altar") in Rome, the home city of the European Olympic Movement - was especially resonant ahead of this, the third edition of the European Games, which will take place under the slogan "we are unity."

Together with European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Spyros Capralos, I was honoured, as chair of the Coordination Commission, to welcome a large delegation from Poland, led by President of the Republic Andrzej Duda, who received the Flame and carried it home to continue its journey to the Opening Ceremony in Krakow on June 21.

President Duda’s presence in Rome was a further demonstration of his commitment to the European Games project, which itself testifies to the power of sport to drive peace and unity on our continent.

Peace in Europe is an objective at the forefront of all our minds. It goes without saying that the journey to these Games has been challenging, set against the backdrop of the global COVID pandemic and especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine, just across Poland’s Eastern border.

Poland has had to deal with the impact of the war on a daily basis. The country has welcomed two million refugees - Ukrainians forced to flee their homeland - creating an even greater emphasis on streamlining resources dedicated to the Games and maximising positive impacts.

It has not been easy, but we know that constraints often spark the best innovation. And the Krakow-Malopolska 2023 team has demonstrated not only resilience and determination, but also great creativity.

In many ways, I believe these Games will provide a glimpse of the future, offering a new model, consistent with that of the next two hosts of the Olympic Games - Paris and Los Angeles.

EOC President Spyros Capralos, left, President of Poland Andrzej Duda, centre, and Hasan Arat, right, chair of the Coordination Commission for Krakow 2023, at the Flame of Peace ceremony ©EOC
EOC President Spyros Capralos, left, President of Poland Andrzej Duda, centre, and Hasan Arat, right, chair of the Coordination Commission for Krakow 2023, at the Flame of Peace ceremony ©EOC

This starts with the pioneering, regional hosting concept, with events spread across 11 towns and cities in the Malopolska region, from Krakow to the Tatra mountains. It has enabled a responsible approach, meaning that no new venues have been built just for the European Games. 

Instead, legacy is focused where it’s needed, with investment in community sports facilities bringing more sport to the lives of more people in Poland.

The context of the Games has also fast-tracked a new approach to operational delivery. Resources are limited, time is short, and we have adopted a "one team" approach across the traditional client groups and stakeholders. Everyone is bringing what they can to support the Games organisation.

This was the focus of our recent Coordination Commission visit, where we heard updates from key partners including ATOS and the European Broadcasting Union, who will play an important role in sharing the images and stories of the Games with a global audience.

As we enter the final phase of preparations, strong progress is being made in critical areas. For example, 8,000 local citizens have been recruited as volunteers.

The Polish business community is also showing a strong appetite for the project. Poland’s national airline LOT has branded its fleet of airplanes in support and this week saw energy company Orlen announced as the Games’ general sponsor.

In addition, the ticket sales platform for the Games will go live in the coming days - and it is worth noting that five per cent of pre-registered ticket applicants are Ukrainian citizens.

We expect Ukrainians and the Ukrainian flag to fill the stands in Krakow-Malopolska as the continent comes together in an outpouring of support for the people of Ukraine. 

The European Games in Krakow is set to be the biggest sports event in Europe since the COVID pandemic ©EOC
The European Games in Krakow is set to be the biggest sports event in Europe since the COVID pandemic ©EOC

A delegation of 200 Ukrainian athletes is expected to compete in the European Games, many of them currently training overseas thanks to the solidarity of National Olympic Committees throughout Europe. It is also worth noting that the EOC was among the first international sports bodies to offer financial support to Ukrainian athletes.

In the present circumstances, these Games will be the closest thing possible to a home competition for Ukraine. The event will have all the ingredients to capture the hearts and imagination of audiences across the continent.

It will be the biggest sport event to take place in Europe since the COVID pandemic, and the biggest multi-sport event ever to be held in Poland, with 7,000 athletes competing across 26 sports, including 18 Olympic sports.

The best athletes of the continent will be present, with qualifying places for Paris 2024 on offer in more than half the sports on the Olympic programme.

Highlights are sure to include the biggest-ever European Team Championships in the history of European Athletics, which will take place over five days at Stadion Slaski in Silesia.

Krakow-Malopolska will also mark history as the stage for several firsts. Not only will it be the first edition of the European Games to take place in the European Union, it will also feature new sports - ski jumping, beach soccer, padel and teqball, as well as an inaugural esports competition in Katowice - as we in the EOC continue our efforts to connect with the interests and priorities of emerging generations.

Personally, I feel an enormous sense of purpose - and pride - to be part of a united team, working towards a unique celebration of sport and its power in society. With under 80 days to go, there remains a great deal to be done. 

But, as the Games’ slogan says, "we are unity" and we will do it together.