David Owen

Well, it isn't Western Europe, but they are getting closer.

Katowice in Poland this week emerged as a possible host for the third European Games, in succession to Baku and Minsk.

The carefully-worded European Olympic Committees (EOC) press release made clear that the city had so far merely "expressed an interest in learning more about" the 2023 event.

Other potential candidates might yet emerge before next month's closing date for the submission of a bid; I am sure the EOC is hoping keenly that they will.

But if Katowice maintains its interest, and if it duly gets the nod in Minsk in June, from the limited amount I know about a region I have not visited, I would be quietly confident that this is a partnership that could work.

Think of Katowice, or the surrounding area of Silesia, and what appears in your mind's eye? It might be coal.

If you are around my age, it might be the football club Górnik Zabrze, who lost to Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's Manchester City in the final of the 1970 European Cup Winners' Cup, and supplied players such as Jerzy Gorgoń, Henrik Wieczorek and above all Andrzej Szarmach, who would pursue his career in Chablis country, to that street-smart Poland team which finished third at the 1974 World Cup.

If you are an anti-doping sleuth, what comes to mind might be the fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport, to be held in Katowice next November.

But if you are a young European, the image conjured up is likely to be something else altogether; and it is likely to have something to do with esports.

Nowadays, Katowice is known increasingly as the home of Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Katowice which, according to what appears to be an official IEM website, "was always the most viewed and the most epic" IEM event.

This year, the blurb continues, "it will push its own standard to a brand new level.

"Twenty-four of the world's best teams will come to Katowice to compete for $1 million (£760,000/€880,000).

"The whole city lives IEM…

"The 11,500 capacity [Spodek] venue is home to the world's oldest esports arena event.

"It has seen some of the greatest names in esports go down the catwalk and pick up the famous IEM trophy."


No matter; this all strikes me as thoroughly interesting.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), as we know, has been very publicly agonising about the nature of its future relationship (if any) with esports.

Only last month, insidethegames Editor Duncan Mackay reported that the subject came up at the seventh Olympic Summit, with "senior IOC officials, led by President Thomas Bach" claiming talk of it becoming a medal event was "premature".

The Silesian Stadium could be a venue if Katowice hosts the 2023 European Games ©Getty Images
The Silesian Stadium could be a venue if Katowice hosts the 2023 European Games ©Getty Images

At the same time you can just feel that, with money tighter than in the recent past and the need to find a way to captivate the young as pressing as ever, some leading lights in traditional sports are dying to convince themselves that what others would see as a liaison dangéreuse with esports might be worth a try.

I gained the distinct impression when visiting Minsk last year that the second European Games are unlikely to be a major money-spinner for the EOC.

Embracing esports in the 2023 event could help both from the point of view of finance and of atmosphere.

However, the EOC would have to tread carefully, taking care not to fall too far out of step with the prevailing wisdom in Lausanne.

This perhaps explains the note of deference in the short statement they gave me when approached regarding their present stance on esports.

"The EOC supports the IOC's policy for ongoing dialogue and engagement with the esports movement and will follow its lead," I was told.

"Namely that any collaboration must be based on and promote the Olympic values."

So presentations, I infer, would be podium- not catwalk-oriented.

Esports at Katowice 2023 could though, it seems to me, be portrayed as a trial run to see how this brave new world meshes with an actual multi-sports event.

There are also influential stakeholders whose views and expertise could, I would think, be tapped.

What does "IEM" stand for? Intel Extreme Masters. 

What is Intel, among other things? An IOC TOP sponsor.

Of course, myriad other factors would need to be taken into account before deciding whether Silesia would be a desirable place to stage the Games.

Baku hosted the first European Games in 2015 ©Getty Images
Baku hosted the first European Games in 2015 ©Getty Images

Having made a few tentative inquiries, though, I was told: 1. there are lots of sporting venues across the post-industrial region; 2. the rebuilt Silesian Stadium in nearby Chorzów would make a great athletics venue; 3. it is easy to drive and to access the region from abroad; and 4. there are more and more hotels - "I never had a problem finding a room even in peak IEM weekend when the entire global esports scene descends on Katowice," according to one visitor.

I would add that there is recent experience of hosting a global multi-sports event not far away, with the city of Wrocław having staged the 2017 World Games, which featured 27 sports disciplines.

The dates for IEM Katowice 2019 are February 20 until March 3, while the closing date for submitting 2023 European Games bids is February 28.

If a Polish bid does materialise, that should leave EOC bigwigs with just enough time to dispatch an observation team to that $1 million showdown at the Spodek Arena.