Tarragona Mediterranean Games: a series of unfortunate events

Empty stands, athletes handing medals to themselves and anthems sung a capella paint a grim picture of the sports event

The Mediterranean Games' mascot Tarracus at the opening ceremony (by ACN)
The Mediterranean Games' mascot Tarracus at the opening ceremony (by ACN) / ACN

ACN | Tarragona

June 27, 2018 02:33 PM

The starting pistol of the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona last Friday was expected to put an end to a troublesome run-up marked by the postponement of the event—which was supposed to take place in 2017—due to lack of funding. Yet with only a few days left, the games have shown that what started out wrong can end up even worse.

Although 150,000 people were expected to attend the games, the attendance has so far been scarce. Almost empty stands and deserted esplanades have been the norm, while only a few sporting events managed to engage enough fans to fill stands by half.

“There is nobody inside the installations. For example, inside the palau [stadium] there are only volunteers,” said David Navarro, a member of the volunteers medical team. “We’re alone. The International Olympic Committee will say it was amazing, but there’s only one truth, and for me it was horrible.”

Subsequent events have put organizers in the spotlight. After authorities didn’t turn up at the medal ceremony of the 200 meters butterfly, Catalan Olympic champion Mireia Belmonte gave the medals herself to the swimmers that accompanied her on the podium.

France’s badminton team sung La Marseillaise a cappella after the country’s national anthem wasn’t played when they won the gold medal, with the country’s Olympic Committee tweeting: “protocol missteps, these things happen.”

Wrestling referees went on strike to protest organizers not offering them diets, a complaint that some volunteers interviewed by Catalan News also brought up.

On Wednesday, a basketball match was stopped due to problems with the court, and the tournament was later postponed until the next day.

On Tuesday night, a 5-year-old boy was hit by an official car of the games and sent to hospital, where he remains in severe condition but out of danger. The driver, who was drunk, handed himself in to police after having originally fled.

Political controversy surrounded the run-up to the games, as Catalan president Quim Torra considered not to attend the inauguration to protest the presence of Spain’s king Felipe VI. At the opening ceremony, Torra was booed and Spanish flags outnumbered those of Tarragona or Catalonia by far, with many seats empty.

The Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi accused the city council of Tarragona, ruled by the Socialists, of favoring unionist grassroots organizations when distributing the tickets for the ceremony, an account that mayor Josep Fèlix Ballesteros blatantly rejected.

In an interview with Catalan News, Tarragona’s deputy mayor Javier Villamayor, in charge of the games, highlighted that Tarragona is the smallest city to ever host the games, which he described as “the most austere in history.”

Yet Villamayor said that “austerity does not mean less ambition about what these games mean for our city and the province of Tarragona.” According to him, the target of 3,500 volunteers was reached early on, and the final number of people registered surpassed 8,000. “This is clear proof that society in Catalonia and Tarragona was engaged,” he said.