Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

The television screen in the restaurant of our hotel - which is a 10-minute walk from the Silesian Stadium where the European Athletics Team Championships are taking place as part of the third European Games - is smartly placed above the coffee machines.

Amidst the froth and steam of arriving cappuccinos, queuing diners have been enjoying coverage of sports such as canoe sprint, diving, karate and taekwondo. 

But yesterday morning, the pictures were coming from Rostov, where the mercenary forces of the Wagner group had seized control.

While the Games have already had to work their way around storms that have broken after unseasonally hot and humid weather in Poland, the thunder of war from the next-door country of Ukraine - and beyond - continues.

And yet the Games go on, providing a precious opportunity for around 7,000 athletes from 48 nations across the continent - with the notable exception of Russia and Belarus.

As part of his address during Wednesday's Opening Ceremony at the Henryk Reyman Stadium in Kraków, the European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Spyros Capralos told participating athletes:

"For many of you, the great conditions here in Kraków and the region of Małopolska will help you to achieve a personal best.

"For some of you, your performance will earn you a place at next year's Olympic Games Paris 2024.

"But all of you will have the chance to experience something really special that goes beyond sport.

"You have the chance to live together as thousands of young Europeans side-by-side in peaceful conditions."

EOC President Spyros Capralos says that the 7,000 athletes taking part in the 3rd European Games
EOC President Spyros Capralos says that the 7,000 athletes taking part in the 3rd European Games "have the chance to experience something really special that goes beyond sport" ©EOC

That, ultimately, is the profoundly significant element in an event hosted by a country that has taken in almost three million refugees from across the border since the Russian invasion began in February last year.

But sport itself continues to offer precious instances of decency and fellow-feeling - and there have been instances here already during the European Athletics Team Championships which, for the first but almost certainly not the last team, are integrated into the European Games.

The 2nd Division event which concluded on Thursday saw a Hungary team energised by the prospect of their home World Athletics Championships in Budapest next month finish top ahead of Ukraine - but all the drama lay in the struggle for the third promotion place between Slovenia and Lithuania.

The latter nation eventually earned the position by just half a point after a dramatic concluding mixed 4x400 metres relay in which Slovenia’s last-leg runner Anita Horvat moved her team from third to first.

The Slovenian quartet were handed a flag in anticipation of that happy event, but the Lithuanian team, who had been brought home in fourth place by Modesta Morauskaite, were also dancing with every appearance of satisfaction.

The scoreboard eventually confirmed that Horvat’s final effort, bringing the team home in 3:14.72, had fallen marginally short.

"Yesterday everyone on our team thought advancing to the 1st Division was impossible," Morauskaite said. 

"Today as we were warming up, everyone was counting the points, showing us getting closer. The pressure was coming in. We knew we have to leave our souls on the track."

Horvat commented: "Actually, we´re proud of each other because we were fighting from the beginning to the end and we did everything to collect points. We gave great effort and the team spirit was amazing."

Great competition; great sportsmanship.

Earlier on a stifling, windless day, men’s 5000m back-marker Dino Bosnjak of Croatia halted by the doubled up and staggering figure of Slovenia’s Vid Botolin 50 metres from the line and sportingly supported him to the finish.

The Slovenian was, inevitably, disqualified. But the memory and image of the Croatian’s compulsion to help a struggling rival - a struggling human - abides. To adopt William Wordsworth’s phrase, it will be a remembered act of kindness…

And many will also long remember the Belgian shot putter Jolien Boumkwo who stepped up, literally, to earn a point in the women's 100m hurdles after the team's nominated runner had to withdraw at short notice. 

In the event, due to a disqualification in a second heat, she earned two points. Solidarity on a small but important scale.

The arguments for Europe to have a Games, just as Asia has a Games, were well made within the EOC before the inaugural edition of Baku 2015.

Partly due to contracts that had already been signed, those Games featured only the third league of the European Athletics Team Championships, which involved the host nation. 

As it turned out, the competition was intrinsically gripping, but clearly at a lower level.

Four years later in Belarus, the athletics element was the Dynamic New Athletics concept, involving head-to-heads and a culminating Gundersen relay calculated on team performances up to that point.

Soon after being re-elected as President of European Athletics last month Dobromir Karamarinov told insidethegames that the DNA concept in Minsk was "something new, but not exactly what athletics deserved", adding: "I think the future of DNA is exactly at the grass roots level - for junior and club level. For elite athletics I don’t think it is so attractive.

"And now for the third edition of the European Games this year it will be the biggest athletics gathering with more than 2,200 athletes in the same place in Silesia.

"This will put athletics in the proper place in the European Games.

"And of course it will bring a big financial revenue to European Athletics.

"This new vision for our European Team Championships as part of the European Games is a big plus.

"It will be not one shot. For sure during the next European Games it will be continued, we have agreed with the leadership of European Games that we will have the same concept, with all divisions involved."

For such a statement to have been made by the flagship sport is surely music to the ears of the European Olympic Committees. 

Meanwhile, the European Athletics relationship with the European multisport Championships, of which it was a part in 2018 and last year, remains moot.

The European Athletics Team Championships has taken its place as a single entity in the European Games for the first time this year ©Getty Images
The European Athletics Team Championships has taken its place as a single entity in the European Games for the first time this year ©Getty Images

On Friday, Karamarinov confirmed that plans are already being laid for the sport - in the form of the Team Championships - to be part of the fourth European Games due to be held in 2027.

"I want to say something about the future of this concept because it’s really worthwhile and this will not be the only chance for athletes to be together in this way - so it is a good ongoing project for athletics.

"We have already started to negotiate our conditions for athletics to be part of the European Games again in four years' time."

Karamarinov described the latest edition of the Team Championships as "special for many reasons", adding: "It’s the first time we have all the divisions and member federations together at [the] same time in a one-week festival of athletics.

"We did this [with the] risk for the 2nd and 3rd Division that there will not be many spectators."

That was an honest evaluation from the Bulgarian. The magnificence of the 55,000 capacity Silesian Stadium served to accentuate the lack of spectators for the first three days of 3rd and 2nd Division competition.

Spectator numbers for the 1st Division involving the hosts and defending champions have, naturally, risen. The stadium has not been remotely close to being filled, but there have been enough enthusiastic fans to create a genuine sense of atmosphere for the later action.

One point that still sits uneasily is the question of whether athletes get medals. 

The ethos of the Team Championships is all about points and collective effort and there is no talk of medals. But the European Games is awarding medals to the top three performers in each discipline as well as the top three nations in the 1st Division.

Meanwhile, in terms of the bigger European Games picture, Capralos has revealed that the EOC is in discussions with two unnamed candidates for the next edition of the European Games in 2027, and has insisted it is "flexible" over the sports programme.

The EOC has previously hinted at interest from further west in Europe.

The Netherlands was initially awarded the 2019 edition of the European Games, but dropped out which led to Minsk stepping in.

"We are discussing with two potential candidates to organise the Games of 2027," he said.

"We have not concluded yet, so we will wait until after the Games here to announce when we are ready, but I am sure we will have a very good organiser."

The identity of the cities interested in staging the 2027 edition is unknown, although reports emerged earlier this year that Split in Croatia wants to stage the multi-sport event.

The programme for Kraków-Małopolska 2023 is back up to 29 sports from 15 at Minsk 2019, of which 21 are Olympic and eight non-Olympic disciplines.

Of the Olympic disciplines, the number now affording qualification to the Games is believed to be 10.

Gymnastics and swimming are two of the notable absences from this year's edition, but Capralos said the EOC had provided opportunities to new sports to showcase their Olympic potential and remained flexible over the programme for future hosts, although it hopes for events to be able to attract Europe's top athletes.

"The European Games goal is to bring the best European athletes to compete and to make sure the sports that are included in the programme will be either qualifying events for the Olympic Games or European Championships," Capralos said.

"Therefore, we are flexible in the programme because we also deal with the organisers of the next events, and we see the sports of interest to the organiser and we are trying to include them in cooperation with the European sports federations.

"We are open.

"The next edition will be in 2027, one year before the Los Angeles Olympic Games, and depending also on the programme of the Los Angeles Olympic Games will decide what sports will be in the programme.

"Here for example, we tried to have eight new sports to give them a try, see how popular they are and see the reaction of the fans and audiences on television.

"It may be that these sports have a bigger chance for the future.

"We tried that at the first European Games, where some sports that were included for the first time, at that time it was 3x3 basketball, and later on became an Olympic sport.

"Karate became an Olympic sport later on in Tokyo.

"We are trying, and I think this provides a good laying of the ground for the International Olympic Committee to see these sports and to evaluate."

The organisation and infrastructure in Chorzów has been largely excellent, with friendly volunteers and a relaxed atmosphere.

Reports from Kraków suggest similar circumstances there and the use of the main square for padel and teqball has been widely anticipated.

There has also been much interest and approval over the presence of the EOC Refugee Team making a first appearance in a continental Games.

There is a mixed reaction to the fact that competition venues are so widely spread. It shares the Games around, but some would wish for a greater concentration that would intensify the atmosphere.

The Opening Ceremony of the 3rd European Games at the Henryk Reyman Stadium in Kraków drew mixed reviews from local media ©Getty Images
The Opening Ceremony of the 3rd European Games at the Henryk Reyman Stadium in Kraków drew mixed reviews from local media ©Getty Images

Wednesday’s Opening Ceremony at the Henryk Reyman Stadium in Kraków earned mixed reaction in Polish media. 

It was described as "impressive but a bit lengthy" by Jakub Wojczynski of przegladsportowy.onet.pl.

Comment was also drawn by the booing and whistling which drowned out the speech by Jacek Sasin, a member of Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Polish media reported that some fans chanted "thieves, thieves".

Earlier in the day he had announced his resignation as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Assets, a role he had occupied since 2019.

"From the press stand it was difficult even to understand his words," Wojczynski  wrote, "because the speech was drowned out by constant whistles. 

"The eager fans even went on to shout 'thieves, thieves'…

"It is difficult to say whether it was about the high costs of the European Games or the conduct of the ruling Law and Justice party, whose representative is Sasin. Maybe both."

Piotr Wesolowicz of www.sport.pl noted a lack of obvious knowledge about the Games from a brief canvassing of Kraków residents, but recognised the "positive atmosphere - from volunteers, excited organisers, journalists from all over the world waiting for the sports show".

When it came to the announcing of the Polish team of all time, he also noted that the home audience went "crazy" for Kraków-born Robert Kibica, the only Polish driver to have won a Formula 1 race.

There were some muted boos and whistles, however, for Robert Lewandowski the day after Poland’s stunning 3-2 loss to Moldova in their Euro 2024 qualifier.

Arkadiusz Dudziak of sportowefakty.wp.pl described the ceremony as "uneven", adding there were some "interesting moments" and that the honouring of Polish sports legends "was met with huge applause from the audience".

He concluded: "I would love for everyone reading this article to cheer for Polish athletes. 

"Because in many disciplines it is not a competition for nothing. 

"After all, you can win passes to the Olympics in Paris. And make history."