The European Cup Bruno Zauli through time…


Restless and creative spirits have always whirled around us in humanity, forging their ideas, pushing forward in trying to contribute towards improving certain existing situations. One of them was Bruno Zauli, a track and field lover, deeply involved with the sport which he served as President of the Italian Athletics Federation (1946-1957) and President of the European Committee in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF – now World Athletics).

Born in Ancona on December 18, 1902 (18/12/1902), the Italian official envisioned the establishment of an event between European countries that would bring all European track and field athletes even closer, promoting the sport in the best possible way. Bruno Zauli’s thoughts and proposals were accepted by the entirety of European Athletics officials and met with the approval of the International Federation. After setting down conditions and rules, they decided to create the European Cup.

Sadly, Zauli was not there to see his vision turned into reality. He passed away on December 7, 1963, a few days before his 61st birthday. In his memory, the European Athletics Committee (the European Athletics Federation was founded in 1970) added the name of the man who inspired the games to the title of the event. This is how the “European Cup Bruno Zauli” was founded. It was first held in West Germany in 1965.

Initially there were restrictions in the number of countries taking part in the top category; 6 national men’s teams and 6 national women’s teams. Smaller countries had to compete in preliminary games to go through to the semifinals of the event; out of the three semifinals, the two top national teams in both men and women would progress to the final.

In its early life, the event was not established in annual planning, being held every two or three years. Men and women also competed on different dates which made life logistically difficult for certain countries to send their best athletes to the games. From 1977 to 1981, countries that did not go through to the final event were given the opportunity to compete with each other.

First changes come about in 1983

Following an evaluation of the events’ progress by the European Athletics Federation and a greater interest for participation, it was decided to increase the categories and all the games to be held in the same dates. So the European Cup took on new shape from 1983 through to 2008, with the creation of separate categories and the participation of all national Athletics Federations, members of the European Athletics.

The national men’s and women’s teams’ categories were kept separate and that meant different countries in the eight categories set by the European Athletics. These were the Men’s Super League, the Women’s Super League, First League for men and women and Second League for men and women, in two groups. Τhe first Super League event was hosted by Great Britain in 1983, the competition being held in London, the first A League event was hosted by Czechoslovakia in Prague, the first A League in women by The Netherlands in Sittard, while the two B Legue were held in Dublin, Ireland and Lisbon in Portugal.

The event kept the same format, being held biannually until 1991. During that time, Europe was being ravaged by civil wars, violent internal disputes in the former Yugoslavia, while an even bigger event was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Add to that, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Reunification of Germany. So in 1990, a united Germany was forged, 1991 saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1992 the world witnessed the breakdown of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Out of these historic events, emerged many new countries that joined the European Athletics Federation in 1993 -namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Bosnia / Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (now North Macedonia).

All these new realities in the map of Europe, forced every European sports federation to reorganise its events, including the European Athletics Federation. So from 1993 onwards new countries started joining the European Cup (the Bruno Zauli name was removed), changing the balance of power, while rising interest led the European Federation into making it an annual event.

From1993 to 2008 the European national teams summer event attracted millions of spectators; it was highly competitive in all categories, whether for the title, promotion or relegation. The structure did not change that much, as men’s and women’s events were held separately, while from 1995 onwards, First League was split into two groups as did Second League, with the Super League hosting the top national teams.

And then… European Athletics Team Championships

In 2006 and 2009 Montenegro and Kosovo gained independence from Serbia raising the number of European Athletics Federation member states to 51. So the Federation considered new ideas on further changes to the European Cup. The top priority was to reduce national federation expenses by scrapping different flights for the men’s and women’s teams to different countries. It was decided to merge them, with the National Athletics Team represented as one.

In 2008, the European Cup was held for the last time, as the next year would see the establishment of a new competition, the “European Athletics Teams Championship”. The 2008 results and classification were central to separating the four new categories. The European Federation took all performances from the 2008 European Cup, classified them and came up with the general point ranking system. For example, the top performance would receive 46 points, the 2nd secured 45 and so on.

Based on this system, 12 teams were classified as Super League, 12 were placed in First League, 8 in Second League (including Cyprus) and the remaining 14 in Third League. At the time the small states competed as one team (Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Gibraltar), while Kosovo entered the competition for the first time in 2019.

The first European Teams Championship in 2009 was met with strong reaction over the way certain events were held. For example, the unfortunate idea that after a number of rounds in the 3,000 meters, the 3,000 meter steeplechase and the 5,000 meters, the last athlete both in the men and women’s category would be forced to withdraw and progressively after each round, the last one would keep withdrawing. Luckily that was the last of this injustice and next year the athletes’ right to complete their effort was reinstated. In addition, during the horizontal jumps and throws, the winner would emerge from the last round of the first four athletes, with the rest of their efforts scrapped. Fortunately, this injustice was also abandoned.

Over the course of time, it was decided that the European Teams Championships would not be held during the European Athletics Championships and Olympic Games years. More recently, the Teams Championship turned into a biannual format, during odd years (i.e. 2017, 2019, 2021) and so on.

The last change involves the number of countries taking part in each category and highlighting the Super League, being broadcast live globally every year. To make the competition more prestigious it was decided to reduce the Super League teams to 8. This required a number of reclassifications in lower categories, which cost our national team, as our athletics performances are way above Third League, to which we are now classified along with fourteen other countries, in addition to the Small States.

So we reach the current year. 2021 sees the organising of the European Athletics Team Championships for the 9th year. The categories and the cities hosting them are as follows:

SUPER LEAGUE (29-30/5/21) (Chorzow, Poland): Poland, Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Ukraine and Portugal.

First League (19-20/6/21) (Cluj Napoca Romania): Czech Republic, Sweden, Greece, Finland, Switzerland, Belarus, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Turkey, Ireland, Romania and Estonia.

Second League (19-20/6/21) (Stara Zagora, Bulgaria): Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Denmark, Croatia, Bulgaria, Austria, Israel, Iceland and Russia (if all the issues with the World Athletics Federation are resolved).

Third League (19-20/6/21) (Limassol, Cyprus): Cyprus, Luxembourg, Georgia, Malta, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, Armenia, North Macedonia, San Marino, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Andorra, Small States of Europe (Liechtenstein, Monaco, Gibraltar).


YEAR    SUPER L.             FIRST L.           SECOND L.      THIRD L.

2009       Germany                Belarus              Lithuania           Israel

2010       Russia                    Czech R.            Switzerland        Denmark

2011       Russia                    Turkey               Estonia              Israel

2013       Russia                    Czech R.            Slovenia             Slovakia

2014       Germany                Belarus              Switzerland        CYPRUS

2015       Russia                    Czech R.            Denmark            Slovakia

2017       Germany                Sweden              Hungary             Luxembourg

2019       Poland                   Portugal             Estonia              Iceland

2021       Poland