MINSK, Belarus (AP) Minsk has emerged as the main contender to host the 2019 edition of the troubled European Games.
In comments reported by state news agency Belta, Belarusian National Olympic Committee vice president Maxim Ryzhenkov said ''our European partners are very interested in the second European Games taking place in Belarus.''
The comments came ahead of a meeting of the European Olympic Committees in Minsk this week.
The former Soviet republic of Belarus, which has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko for more than two decades, could be a controversial choice as host nation because of its record on human rights.
With the country in recession, Belarus could also face financial pressures in hosting the event.
''The main issue is the budget,'' Ryzhenkov said. ''The second European Games demand the investment of significant sums. It's necessary to carefully consider and weigh up everything.''
The 2019 European Games were originally due to take place in the Netherlands, which pulled out last year citing financial reasons. Russia was considered as a possible replacement by the EOC, but repeatedly declined to host the games.
The inaugural European Games were held last year in Baku, Azerbaijan, and faced controversy over human rights issues and difficulties in attracting top athletes. The games also stretched Azerbaijan financially with construction of many new venues and a lavish opening ceremony which cost $95 million alone, according to Azerbaijan's sports minister.
Minsk would likely need to spend far less to host the games than Baku, having built or refurbished many sports venues in recent years. The Belarusian capital hosted the world track cycling championships in 2013 and the world ice hockey championships a year later.