There are doubts over the 2023 European Games, which are due to take place in Kraków. The city’s mayor and the national government have engaged in a war of words over the organisation and funding of the event, which have been made more challenging by the pandemic.
In June 2019, Kraków and its surrounding Małopolska province were awarded the hosting of the games. The city had been the only remaining bidder, after a Russian plan to hold the games in Kazan collapsed. Kraków had itself replaced the city of Katowice, which had initially been Poland’s candidate.
The European Games, which were first held in 2015 and are overseen by the European Olympic Committees (EOC), see athletes from across the continent compete in a range of disciplines. Previous editions were held in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Minsk, Belarus.
While Kraków's mayor celebrated the decision, there are still discussions behind the scenes over how the costs will be covered, with Kraków seeking guarantees of government support. A civic initiative in Kraków is demanding clarity on the estimated budget https://t.co/p3OFRPn5i0
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 22, 2019
At the time, Kraków’s mayor, Jacek Majchrowski, celebrated the event as “a great opportunity to promote and develop the entire region”. Yet he also made clear that “government financial guarantees to support this project” were needed.
Last year, the city – which is Poland’s leading tourist destination – was hit hard by lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kraków is still yet to sign a host city contract with the EOC, and there have been suggestions that nearby Katowice and its Silesia province could take over.
Majchrowski has indicated that he will not sign the agreement until the government introduces a special act supporting the organisation of the games. He recently told Gazeta Krakowska that he was still waiting to hear from Jacek Sasin, the minister for state assets, whose planned visit to Kraków in January was postponed after he fell ill with COVID-19.
“We’ve been in talks for a year and a half and we’ve done everything we were supposed to,” said Majchrowski, Kraków’s mayor since 2002, in an interview published on his Facebook page.
He added that the city is unable to prepare as the list of sports to be included in the games has not yet been finalised. He suggested that the event could be delayed by two years, noting that the Olympic Games in Tokyo have already been postponed in the light of the uncertain situation.
“How can we function if we don’t know what will be at the games?” Majchrowski added. “At the moment we are like a drunken child in the fog.”
Sasin, who also holds the position of deputy prime minister, has responded by questioning Kraków’s commitment to organising the games and suggesting that Majchrowski is acting “strangely”.
Sasin told RM FM that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has delivered assurances to Kraków, but that organising the games was up to the city, not the government.
“Kraków and Małopolska declared their desire to organise these games and were awarded them,” said Sasin. “We, as the government, are not running away from supporting the organisers, we are ready. But the government won’t do the organisers’ work for them.”
“When we know which disciplines will ultimately take place and what the resultant investment needs for sporting infrastructure are, only then will be in a position to adopt the relevant special act and guarantee that the necessary investments will be made,” he added.
Sasin also suggested that Majchrowski is trying to score political points against the government and that, by contrast, cooperation with Witold Kozłowski, head of the Małopolska province, had been “excellent”. Kozłowski is a member of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party whereas Majchrowski represents the opposition.
But Majchrowski insists that he wants to host the games, which would be “a motor for getting tourism moving again”. However, he warns that time is running out before the special act is needed in order for investments to be made, as the public procurement process and construction will take many months.
“At this moment the games could be organised if the guarantees and special act are ready at the beginning of the second quarter of this year,” he told Gazeta Krakowska. “If that deadline is missed, there will be no question [of organising the games].”
Financial issues are not the only problem that has clouded the organisation of the games in Kraków and Małopolska. In September last year, several European politicians wrote to the EOC questioning the choice of the province, which was one of many parts of Poland to declare itself free from “LGBT ideology” in 2019.
The Flemish sports minister said that the declaration is “incompatible with the values of the Olympic Charter”. The EOC responded by offering assurances that there would be “no discrimination of any kind”.
Majchrowski himself wrote last year – after Andrzej Duda won the presidential election standing on an anti-LGBT platform – that “LGBT is not an ideology. LGBT is people, who deserve respect and the right to a safe and dignified life…LGBT people are our friends, relatives, colleagues. LGBT is us.”
Mayor of Kraków: "LGBT is not an ideology. LBGT is people, who deserve respect and the right to a safe & dignified life. We are in solidarity with those whom politicians and hierarchs of the church have dehumanised. LGBT people are our friends, relatives, colleagues. LGBT is us" pic.twitter.com/hZX6wBQgVa
— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) July 13, 2020
The current troubles are not Kraków’s first bad experiences with applying to host major sporting games. In 2014, the city announced that it was abandoning its bid to organise the 2022 Winter Olympics after almost 70% of voters opposed the plan in a municipal referendum. The government now fears being left to foot the bill should there be a repeat of this withdrawal, reports Gazeta Krakowska.
The EOC, however, remains optimistic about the event. Earlier this month, it announced that boxing and shooting had been added to the agenda and that “the sports programme is taking shape rapidly”.
“With eight sports now confirmed, the EOC is quickly putting together an exciting, innovative and fan-friendly offering featuring the best athletes in Europe for the summer of 2023,” said Hasan Arat, chair of the coordination commission.
Ben Koschalka is a translator and senior editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.