Minsk to host 2019 European Games, says country's president
MINSK (Reuters) - Minsk will host the 2019 European Games, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) on Friday.
"We have made a historic decision and in 2019, European athletes will gather here for our Olympics," Lukashenko told the EOC general assembly, according to the Belta news agency.
"We are not a superpower, but we pay a lot of attention to sport."
"Belarus is ready to take the second European Games in 2019," added Lukashenko, who is also president of his country's Olympic committee.
The 2019 Games will be the second edition of the continent's multi-sports event.
The inaugural European Games were staged in Baku, Azerbaijan, last year at a cost of several billion dollars but finding a second host has proved a major challenge.
Netherlands withdrew from hosting the second edition, scared off by the cost of the event, while second option Russia was ruled out following the massive state-backed doping scandal this year.
A rival European Sports Championships have been planned for 2018 in Berlin and Glasgow, with seven federations, including athletics and swimming, signing up for it.
Both these European federations refused to send their top athletes to Baku and are likely to repeat that stance for the 2019 gathering, a major setback for the event, with both sports among the most popular.
The arrest and brief imprisonment of suspended EOC chief Patrick Hickey during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and subsequent charges relating to an alleged ticketing scam further hampered efforts to appoint a second host. Hickey has remained in Brazil pending a court hearing, with his passport confiscated.
"Belarus fully shares the position of the EOC about the lack of evidence of his committing any crimes," Lukashenko said. "I am sure we will see him among us very soon."
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk and Karolos Grohmann in Berlin.; Editing by John O'Brien/Sudipto Ganguly)