GB stars hope for encore in Munich’s trailblazing European championships

<span>Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

A memorable summer of British sporting success is about to enjoy a spectacular final encore. Over the next 11 days in Munich, a significant number of Team GB stars will be among the 4,700 athletes competing for 177 European titles across nine sports – including athletics, cycling, gymnastics and triathlon – in what organisers say is the biggest multisport event in Germany since Munich staged the 1972 Olympics.

In track and field, Jake Wightman, Keely Hodgkinson and Jake Wightman will aim to complete a treble of major medals after success at the worlds and Commonwealth Games. In cycling, the Olympic mountain bike champion Tom Pidcock and BMX freestyle gold medallist Charlotte Worthington will lead the charge. While in gymnastics most of the British stars that lit up Birmingham last week, including Jake Jarman and Joe Fraser, bid for yet more success – starting on Saturday when the women could win their first ever European team gold.

Related: Birmingham 2022: Guardian writers’ Commonwealth Games awards

Usually European Championships for different sports are staged in different places at different times of the year. However organisers believe that bringing them together for a major continental event in one city will lead to far greater media exposure – the event is being shown on mainstream TV across Europe, including the BBC – and save on costs.

In 2018 several events came together for the first time in Glasgow and Berlin. This time around, however, the action all takes place in Munich, either at the famous Olympic Park or in the centre of the city.

Keely Hodgskinson in action at the Commonwealth Games
Keely Hodgkinson will run in Munich looking to improve on her silver medals in Eugene and Birmingham. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

One of the brains behind the event, Paul Bristow, helped revamp the Champions League in the early days of the tournament. And while he has more modest ambitions for these European Championships, he believes it will become a significant addition to the sporting landscape in the years ahead.

“I think it’s going to take a few editions to really gain traction, so it’s probably a longer journey than it was with the Champions League,” he admits. “But the concept is very similar.

“The Champions League was already a very good competition, so it was about changing the format and the way it was marketed, packaged and branded to make something that was already very good even better. And that’s essentially what we’ve tried to do with the European Championships.” Bristow points out the budget for these Games is €130m ((£110m), far less than the billions needed to stage an Olympics or the £778m it cost to host the Commonwealth Games, with the lack of opening and closing ceremonies and torch relay and the use of existing facilities helping to lower costs.

However visitors to Munich will be also able to watch the triathlon on a beer platform on the lake, while around the Olympic Park there will be different stages for cultural events and pop concerts.

But while Bristow is pleased that the finals of some events – including sport climbing, beach volleyball and velodrome have sold out – he concedes that packing out the 69,000-capacity Olympic Stadium for the athletics will be difficult.

“The Olympic Park was closed for almost two years during Covid,” he says. “They started again three months ago with some concerts and the appetite was down. The Rolling Stones and Guns N’ Roses didn’t sell out. So there’s less appetite at the moment with the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, and people are definitely buying later than they used to as well.

“But what we found in 2018 was that when the event started in Glasgow, the ticket sales for the athletics in Berlin the following week accelerated very rapidly and the stadium was packed for the last few days. We are starting to see the same momentum again and I fully expect the final weekend to be absolutely full.”