Nick Westby: European Championships was a bold try but whole Olympic calendar needs rewriting

Great Britain's Adam Peaty made a splash at the 2018 European Championships. PIC: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Great Britain's Adam Peaty made a splash at the 2018 European Championships. PIC: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
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As the images flashed from Jack Laugher in the pool in Edinburgh to Jess Learmonth running through a park in Glasgow to a young Belarusian winning the 100m hurdles in Berlin, it was hard to escape the feeling that these European Championships have created greater confusion than anything else.

Granted, some of the feats have been impressive.

Men's 3m springboard gold medal winner, Jack Laugher. PIC: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Men's 3m springboard gold medal winner, Jack Laugher. PIC: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Adam Peaty lowering his own world record again; Laugher cementing his status as the premier diver on the continent and Laura Kenny winning more gold medals after ‘being up five times in the night’ because her 10-month old son couldn’t sleep.

But more often than not, this first attempt at a multi-sport European Championships has looked muddled, and outside those great British stories of triumphalism promoted by an ever-increasing band of tub-thumping BBC broadcasters, the competition as a whole has struggled to grab the nation’s attention.

The geography merely heightens the perplexity; cycling, triathlon and gymnastics in Glasgow, swimming and diving in Edinburgh and the athletics – still the blue riband sport in the Olympic programme – a thousand miles away in Berlin.

The idea of the championships was to bring all these major sports from the Olympic programme together under one umbrella competition.

Laura Kenny. PIC: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Laura Kenny. PIC: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

The feeling was their individual continental gatherings were not garnering enough attention.

From a logistical and marketing standpoint, the argument makes sense and it was worth a try.

But surely under one umbrella should mean in one city. And all Olympic sports should mean everything; with boxing, judo and hockey, to name a few, included.

This congregation of a handful of those sports across three different cities seems like a halfway house, a competition that was not ready to be presented to the world but has been rushed through because national governing bodies were up against a strict timeframe and the Olympic cycle had reached its mid-point.

On their own, individual European Championships were not grabbing the attention, so something needed to change.

The last European Championships in athletics, prior to this one, were staged in 2016 in Amsterdam. That Poland finished top of the medals table says everything about the standard of a competition held just two months before the Olympic Games. Two years earlier, the European Athletics Championships in Zurich came just two weeks after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Neither renewals were a priority for those competing.

The previous European Aquatics Championships were held in London two years ago, but struggled for headline space given they came three months before the Rio Olympics.

Cycling’s European Championships are held annually, but not in the same place or at the same time. Track cyclists battled for gold on the boards in Berlin last October, two months after the road races were contested in Denmark and the BMX gongs were handed out in France.

Gymnastics is like cycling in that it has European and world championships practically every year.

Put simply, there is no rhyme or reason to the way sports hold their biggest events.

But if the governing bodies of leading sports have got their heads together to come up with this interpretation of a European Championships, then why can’t they come up with a global sports calendar that brings uniformity across the Olympic sports and clarity for the fans and sponsors who keep them in business?

It would also create a greater incentive for the athletes to try and win titles at events that do not come around as often as they do now. With the greatest of respect to the achievements of Laura Kenny, 12 European titles – has the mystique of the achievement not worn off yet?

To create uniformity and reduce the disorder of what we have just seen in Scotland and Germany, why not try over the next three Olympic cycles to make the sporting calendar thus:

Year One: European Championships, or Pan-American Championships. If it’s to be a multi-sport event then so be it, but involve all Olympic sports and have it in one city.

Year Two: the Commonwealth Games.

Year Three: individual world championships in all sports.

Year Four: the Summer Olympics. And so on...

It may not be something the authorities can action until 2025 after the Paris Olympics because sports like athletics already have world championships scheduled for 2021.

But if this multi-sport, multi-city European Championships of the last fortnight has taught us anything, it is that the governing bodies are willing to evolve and adapt.

So why not take it further and put the fans, and the athletes, at the heart of the matter.

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Talking of halfway houses, last Thursday’s transfer deadline day was neither here nor there.

The shutting of the window at 5pm instead of 11pm at least shortened the working day for the brave heroes of The Yorkshire Post sports desk, but otherwise it was a false deadline.

For starters, it only really bore relevance to Premier League clubs, as teams in the EFL – nine of them Yorkshire clubs – can still sign players on loan until August 31, meaning that date could have more relevance around these parts.

And secondly it is not a deadline that is replicated across Europe, so, as is rumoured, German side Schalke can sign Tottenham’s Danny Rose any time over the next three weeks and Spurs will have to wait until January to replace him.

The over-inflation of transfer fees shows no signs of slowing down, either.

Like the Olympic sports, football’s independent bodies need to work together to unify a market that has blown out of proportion.